by Bryan Kirschner on January 11, 2007 11:00am

There have been two journal articles lately  that have stuck in my head:

First, Brian Fitzgerald writing broadly about the future of open source (“open source 2.0”) in September’s MIS Quarterly argues for the durability of OSS because it can achieve “a balance between a commercial profit value-for-money proposition  while still adhering to acceptable open source community values.”  Within this flexibility  he describes how “the quintessential proprietary software company, Microsoft, can appear to satisfy the definition of an open source company, while a quintessential open source company, Red Hat, can appear to resemble a proprietary software  company.”

That in itself is a lot to chew on, especially if you happen to work in the Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft. 

But then Baldwin, Hienerth, and long-time user innovation champion Eric von Hippel published an article November’s Research Policy including  discussion of the relationships between  high-capital, mainstream manufacturers” and “low-capital, experimental user-manufacturers” in relation to innovation.  They conclude that in “design spaces”—markets or products; they use cell phones and PDA’s as an example—that are “relatively easy to expand” the high-capital manufacturers and user-innovators might “co-exist indefinitely.”  As I read it, one of the key concepts is the idea of “toolkits” which split the cost of designing an innovation into a capital component (the toolkit) and the designer’s decision—thereby “reducing the time and effort needed to generate new designs” and increasing individual and possibly community capacity  for innovation—“rejuvenat[ing] innovation in a design space that was previously deemed to be exhausted.”

(It’s worth pointing  out that as far as I have seen, von Hippel has not historically thought of this as applying to software as opposed to physical goods—a source of no end of consternation for me, because I find it to be quite elegant, even inspiring when applied to software and maybe even further to other types of intellectual property—but that’s another blog.)

I subsequently ran across a great example of real-life business and engineering decisions  by  the Education Products Group at Microsoft that are a fascinating case study to which to apply these two idea. The  Sharepoint Learning Kit (SLK) is (in essence) “a toolkit” for Microsoft’s SharePoint2007 designed for teachers that is being released under a Shared Source license

We’re very pleased to have Mike Hines, a product manager with this group, stop by on his way to BETT 2007 (the Educational Technology Show)  come tell us about the engineering, licensing, and business decisions they made, why —and what’s started happening as a result.   

In subsequent interviews we will turn the focus on some of the cool technical work being done in community, commercial , and public-sector projects using SLK such as the project he mentions in Kent.

Other Links:

Details on SCORM certification:  http://www.adlnet.gov/scorm/certified/index.cfm?event=main.product&certid=196
SLK FAQ:  http://www.codeplex.com/SLK/Wiki/View.aspx?title=SLK%20FAQ
SLK Contact:  slkfb@microsoft.com