So... was open source a mistake?
Has anyone ever been more fundamentally wrong than Eric Raymond, when he wrote in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" almost nine years ago, that open source is "better quality"? How the heck do we know that? Unfortunately, we don't. We don't know that open source is inherently better - or worse - than its proprietary cousins. Nor do we know if open source software is inherently more secure. We don't know that the TCO of open source software is any lower than proprietary versions.
But if we look at what's actually happening out in the IT "wild", we can see what open source does actually give customers that adopt it - freedom. The freedom to try it a little bit without having to agree to any terms (GPL and other licenses notwithstanding). The freedom to download it whenever you want without talking to some sales dork first. The freedom to fire your vendor and hire someone else to manage and maintain the software and your deployment. Nowhere in this equation do we get customers adopting "better software, faster" or better security fixes and patches, or lower TCO. We see customers adopting more open source software because it's easy, it's quick, it works (sometimes), and it's possible to change course later if things don't work out. Open source is the perfect technology for IT grunts with a fear of commitment.
About eight years ago, a few smart people got together and decided that the term "free software" didn't cut it. Ironically, the term they chose, "open source", seems to de-emphasize the very thing responsible for its success: freedom. When the open source people cut out the term free software, they were expressing a few fears: fear of confusion in the marketplace, fear of misplaced value (of course it doesn't work - you get what you pay for...), and of course, fear of St. Ignutious himself. In hindsight, perhaps we should consider the possibility that adopting the term "open source" is more of an inhibitor to free software than an enabler.