Open source software, developed by volunteers, appears counter to the conventional wisdom that private provision of public goods is socially more efficient. But complexity makes a difference. Under standard models, development contracts for specialized software may be difficult to write and ownership rights do not necessarily elicit socially optimal effort. I consider three mechanisms that improve the likelihood that firms can obtain the software they need: pre-packaged software, Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and Free/Open Source software (FOSS). I show that with complex software, some firms will choose to participate in FOSS over both "make or buy" and this increases social welfare. In general, FOSS complements proprietary provision, rather than replacing it. Pre-packaged software can coexist in the marketplace with FOSS: pre-packaged software addresses common uses with limited feature sets, while firms with specialized, more complex needs use FOSS.
Open Source Software: Free Provision of Complex Public Goods
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