Tim O’Reilly has written up a talk he has given about the open source paradigm shift, which he describes as fundamental and long-term changes in the technology world brought on by the widespread adoption of Free and open source software.

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published a groundbreaking book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he argued that the progress of science is not gradual but (much as we now think of biological evolution), a kind of punctuated equilibrium, with moments of epochal change. When Copernicus explained the movements of the planets by postulating that they moved around the sun rather than the earth, or when Darwin introduced his ideas about the origin of species, they were doing more than just building on past discoveries, or explaining new experimental data. A truly profound scientific breakthrough, Kuhn notes, “is seldom or never just an increment to what is already known. Its assimilation requires the reconstruction of prior theory and the re-evaluation of prior fact, an intrinsically revolutionary process that is seldom completed by a single man and never overnight.”

Kuhn referred to these revolutionary processes in science as “paradigm shifts”, a term that has now entered the language to describe any profound change in our frame of reference.

Paradigm shifts occur from time to time in business as well as in science. And as with scientific revolutions, they are often hard fought, and the ideas underlying them not widely accepted until long after they were first introduced. What’s more, they often have implications that go far beyond the insights of their creators.

One such paradigm shift occurred with the introduction of the standardized architecture of the IBM personal computer in 1981. In a huge departure from previous industry practice, IBM chose to build its computer from off the shelf components, and to open up its design for cloning by other manufacturers. As a result, the IBM personal computer architecture became the standard, over time displacing not only other personal computer designs, but over the next two decades, minicomputers and mainframes.

More here.