Pragmatism Not Ideology: IBM’s Love Affair with Open Source Software

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz


Working Paper, 2008


This paper examines the historical evidence as to why a large commercial firm supported open source software.

Policy Relevance

Policymakers should be careful not to idealize open source; firms like IBM become involved in open source for familiar economic reasons.

Main Points

  • Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own needs; open source code under the General Public License (GPL) must be distributed free.


  • IBM is the world’s second largest seller of commercial software, so some are puzzled as to why it supports “free” software.


  • The business history of IBM shows it adapts to change for practical reasons.


  • During the half a century that IBM has made software, it has delivered many combinations of free software combined with commercial software, or code that users can access combined with proprietary code.


  • Should open source grow markedly, it could eat into IBM’s revenues, but IBM would have time to adapt.

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