They cost nothing, and if they're properly maintained by the open source community, their quality is equal to that of their commercial competitors.
The idea behind open source has been around for years, long before the movement toward open source software in the late 1980s—even before computers and well before the Internet of Things (IoT) tools on the market today. In the early days of automobiles, George Selden owned the patent on the two-cycle gas engine, which meant no auto manufacturers could deviate from Selden's basic design and requirements without a lawsuit.
Henry Ford put an end to that by successfully challenging Selden's patent and rendering it practically useless. This action also led to the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and "cross-licensing," which allowed US auto manufacturers to develop and share their innovations openly without the threat of litigation between various auto companies. One could say that this approach accelerated the innovation and availability of those new technologies to mainstream consumers.
Fast forward to 2015: we're at a pivotal point in human history as we look to open source solutions to accelerate the innovation and adoption of IoT.
Drivers for open source
There are many drivers behind the popularity of open source:
Consumers want to use a large variety of consumer technology devices, and they don't want to be limited to using devices from one specific vendor (some smartwatches can only be paired with the same vendor's smartphone).
Vendors of IoT devices want to increase the number of technology ecosystems into which their devices can be integrated without major effort.
Application developers want to support a broad range of devices without having to develop vendor-specific code.
Open source solutions allow for this scale, velocity of innovation, and flexibility.
In order to scale to connect and support 50 to 70 billion sensors in the next decade, potentially millions of routers, gateways, and data servers will be required. There's no way to achieve these levels of scale without relying on open source frameworks and platforms within that infrastructure. Any other approach will simply be unaffordable.
Velocity of innovation
Open source technologies support rapid innovation through several advantageous characteristics, allowing for a more natural adoption approach within the enterprise. It's free and generally easy to download, install, and launch. This allows easy exploration of and experimentation with new technologies and enables enterprises to get comfortable with the software on smaller, non-mission-critical projects before any financial commitment is required.
Additionally, open source software enables permissionless innovation, easing concerns over royalties or lawsuits. In particular, open source promotes innovation by integration, where developers create new systems by combining freely available open source components.
Vibrant developer community
Open source software projects tend to promote innovation faster than proprietary solutions because they draw contributions from a large community of developers. The accumulation of this community participation accelerates the delivery of the key features and ecosystem that enterprises need. The result is that open source usually delivers on-target capabilities faster than proprietary alternatives.
The best possible way to have a new technology achieve rapid adoption is by combining open standards with a robust open source implementation. Open source implementations provide an easy adoption path with interoperability, and they reduce the cost of entering the market. Developers can spend less time implementing a standard and focus instead on building software that provides the firm with the product-differentiating features customers value.
A key advantage of open source solutions is that they don't lock your organization in to a proprietary provider. The cost of switching solutions and their vendors is typically high, which holds enterprises and startups hostage to proprietary service providers. Open source mitigates the risk of proprietary solutions being discontinued or no longer supported. How many firms have purchased proprietary software and invested in costly customizations, only to be stuck with an unsupported system or a costly upgrade path?
Industry-wide research on IoT open source technologies
Amyx+McKinsey conducted an industry-wide study on the open source projects related to IoT. Our goal was to obtain a cross-section of open source projects. Our scope was not to reach 100-percent coverage but rather to get a diverse representation of open source IoT projects.
The research methodology consisted of a survey questionnaire, video interviews, and secondary sources from websites, industry reports, and other sources. We found that not all projects open the entire source code for open source collaboration. The degree of "open" varies from project to project. Others offer a "freemium" model, or free open source code with the option of professional services for support and advanced tools.
A chapter on IoT open source, based on Amyx+McKinsey's research findings, will be included in the The Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems Handbook in late 2015.