The Grief Cycle in Redmond?

23 Dec The Grief Cycle in Redmond?

Grief (grēf) n.
  1. Mental anguish or pain caused by loss or despair
  2. Annoyance, difficulty, frustration, or trouble

I was reviewing the big events of the last twelve months, and I was struck by what an incredible year it was for open source. Not only is the movement mainstream in terms of customer adoption, but gaining momentum, even among the traditional detractors of the movement. Not only have they endorsed the model but seem to have embraced the philosophy as well.

The timing of all these events are interesting, of course, to those who have followed the movement since the turn of the new century. As I long ago predicted, the commercial response to Linux would follow the pattern described by the famous Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss physician who spend a lot of time attempting to understand grief, death, and dying. She codified the emotional cycles a patient vacillated between as they approached their death. This grief cycle is described below:

Pictured modified from

After having experienced the Denial stage (~1991 – 1997, aka “We see linux as a competitive threat in the hobbyist market”) and the Anger stage (1998 – 2005, aka, “Linux is a threat to our competitive future”) with the Halloween letters, Linux has fully entered into the Bargaining stage (2006 – Patent, interoperability, and joint sales agreements; mergers and acquisitions; and full blown GPL releases of core source code).

The bargaining phase is all about validation – beginning to acknowledge that the condition is not going away and is not going to get better. At this point, the patient attempts to optimize the situation through multiple negotiation positions. The recent Microsoft deal, with all its interesting implications, is probably the biggest open source validation point to date. The Oracle announcement, the Sun announcement, and even the JBoss acquisition are additional and impressive validation points. Taken collectively, it is paradigm shifting.

Tracking the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, I believe that 2007-08 will continue to see additional bargaining and consolidation throughout the open source industry. As the unrelenting spread of the collaborative open source model gains wider acceptance, there will be a period of market Depression for the detractors (2008-09), with ultimate Acceptance of the realities of an ever expanding open source world in 2010 and beyond.

Time will tell if Kubler-Ross’s predictive model will prove prophetic. In the meantime, may the open source community the world over continue to “give ‘em grief”!

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