Some businesses prefer to catch you when you have no choice. They use market conditions or even patents to ensure that they can be the bully. I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with this, but I'm certain that it is a deliberate choice.
Other businesses, like Amazon, do better when they have lots of competition. Amazon has made it easy for other vendors to use their technology platform and even to sell items on their site. Why?
Because they understand that more competition brings more attention, more business, more commerce. And since they are organized for volume and are eager to compete, more competition helps them.
Seth is talking about Amazon's strategy vs the one of most online merchants. But he might be very well talking about open source vendors vs. proprietary ones…
Internet fosters competition. As open source does. We (open source vendors) like competition. We were born in this environment. We get our customers by providing value to them and we are keeping them by not stopping to. Unlike proprietary vendors, used to old ways: get customer through a low-priced entry ticket and lock them thanks to an overpriced exit ticket. It has worked long enough.
For several months now, the new hype for some “Open Source VIPs” (usually people having been involved in some form of “Open Source activities”) is to tell how much Open Source is not pure anymore (now that it is generating business and is widely spread and done by successful companies). How badly the Open Source model is hurt. And to what extent the model is broken, dead, not working. The last example is this article from Stuart Cohen in Business Week gives me a nice opportunity to express my views on the topic.
So for those who think the model is broken, please read on! For others, please read on too. And for both, comment if you like, I value you opinion.
Alive and kickin’, Open Source’s stronger than ever
Time to go back to fundamentals. Hence, here we go…
Let’s imagine Open Source software were not working, here is how you would notice:
You wouldn’t get much email delivered into your inbox
You wouldn’t be able to surf the web, and would sadly abandon facebook and 95% of your web apps (the one you now can’t live without)
You wouldn’t be able to use the Internet at all (since your computer wouldn’t be able to even find servers’ addresses)
Most of your enterprise network would just be broken (remember the tiny box with Linux inside…)
Most of your enterprise apps would be down too, anyway (Yes, Java and PHP are OSS)
…funny day at the office, right? Kind of a remake of “The Day After”…
You’re using open source code everywhere, for most of your daily tasks involving computers (or mobile phones, game console, etc.), without noticing it (see, it works… . It’s become the blood of the software industry. From tiny, yet critical, bits like network protocol stacks, compilers, print servers, http servers, mobile phone firmware or OS kernels (Linux, anyone?) to large enterprise software like Eclipse IDE, MySQL, Java, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and a dozen more (including Nuxeo, of course!).
OSS being there, live and kicking, someone has to produce it. A model must exist: Open Source code does not magically appear from nothing. People are producing it, and the vast majority of them get paid for their work.
Proprietary software’s dead: there is no pure proprietary software anymore
Given this, there isn’t a big step to state: As there are more “pure open source” than “pure proprietary software”, the Proprietary Software model is broken.
Is it? No.
And, by the way, there isn’t one proprietary model. There are many. Same, there isn’t one open source model. There are many! The world is diverse, business models too. And that’s good.
Proprietary software models delivers value. As do the Open Source models. Actually, this is the key point: the value delivered to customers. And it’s not enough highlighted in those endless “proprietary vs. open source” trolls.
It just seems that OSS models are delivering more value for less money than their proprietary equivalent. But that’s another argument.
Not pure enough…
One thing I can’t stand to hear is “this open source software is not pure enough”. Pure enough. Period. Or “this open source software is not real open source”. Real. Period. “Real”, “Pure”.
Hey, It’s not weed, man. It’s software! And business.
You know what? The exact same code can be proprietary or open source. Its licence defines it. There is no notion of a “purity-level”. There is an OSI-approved open source licence or not. End of the story. All other considerations are business-related considerations. And it is really important, but does not impact the “open source”-ness of the software.
What matters then is the behavior of the company, the price of a deployment, the level of support offered, the list of features available, etc. As for proprietary software I would say. And it’s normal, those aspects are the ones defining value the software will bring to customers.
And at the end, the choice is made based on the good old value/price ratio. Because this is what matters. If Open Source Software delivers it, it’s great. No matter if it has been created by a pure service company, a big software vendor (like Sun or IBM), a company using an hybrid model, a company delivering proprietarized open source (like RedHat), a non-profit Foundation (usually gathering and mutualizing work force from software companies, like Eclipse or Mozilla) or a pure informal open source group (like for the Linux kernel).
Purity matters for crystal, gold, diamonds or oil. Not for business models in the software industry. Value does. And it would be great if we all could not forget this. Because this is what customers are expecting. Value matters. And as long as value is created, the model is valid. Customers are the judges, and they like it.
Of course, maybe Stuart just want to attract some attention for his new startup trying to sell people the development model that has freely emerged with open source. Business’s good, for sure. But… don’t bite the hand, Stuart, don’t bite the hand…
I just came across this post "Open Source is Free like a Free Puppy is Free" from Annie Weinberger, Director of Product Marketing @ Interwoven. And although we’re not really competing with Interwoven, I thought I would take 10min to answer because I’m tired of reading this kind of nonsense about Open Source.
Taking aside it’s not a brand new comparison (Scott McNealy launched it apparently before changing his mind, seeing recent changes in Sun’s business model), I’m still trying to get the point of this post. So here is three options with some comments for you, Annie…
Option #1: Open Source is for kids
Maybe Annie’s thinking that Open Source is for kids, but for adult customers proprietary is the way to go.
Well, I won’t even write on this. Open Source has proven its credibility in many situations, including the most demanding and critical ones (Internet anyone? Google?). Good Open Source software, is good software. It’s just good. And just works.
More, if you dig a bit into your own software, I would be surprise if you wouldn’t find any bit of Open Source. BTW, it seems your engineers are considering and using Open Source for good given the number of posts they sent on Open Source software mailing-list: Search results for from:interwoven.com – MarkMail. Open Source’s for kids, right?
Option #2: Open Source does cost money
No kidding?! What a scoop! Hey, Annie, what’s your point here?
Open Source does cost money, for sure. And Interwoven too, last time I’ve checked.
In fact, value usually costs money at some point and Open Source is no exception to this fundamental market’s rule.
The real fact is: Open Source software often delivers value for less money that proprietary software do. And if your customers (or prospects should I say) think than Open Source WCM solutions are less expansive than yours, there should be something there, right?
Here’s the trick: Open Source vendors have found a more efficient way to produce and distribute software than you. Plain raw economy. We produce and sell software that works cheaper than you. That’s all. It’s not about feature-level, not about hidden costs (ask any customer if they never ran out of budget with proprietary software implementation…). There is no more, no less, hidden cost with Open Source than with proprietary software. It’s just software, btw, sold and supported by softwares vendors. We charge money for value, as you do. But less for the same amount of value, because we can leverage the power of the Open Source model.
Option #3: Big ECM vendors are scared
Or maybe Interwoven is just scared. Scared because, as many vendors in the ECM market, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand the tsunami that already has surged on so many IT markets (just take operating systems, web technologies, middleware, internet’s core, IT infrastructure, etc.).
Now, ECM proprietary vendors are seeing the big waves coming to their shores, and are just scared. And it’s not about blocking or running here. It’s about surfing. Open Source isn’t like puppies, it’s like surfing! It’s hard. It takes time. But it’s damn good and efficient to deal with the big waves. And it’s cool!
Yes, Open Source vendors have figured out a way (or should I say several ways since approaches are various and slightly different) to deliver a great share of value to their customers, for much less money than proprietary software vendors do.
And one last word about Annie’s post: if you’re forced to use such poor and under-the-belt criticism when trying to promote your product’s superiority, there shouldn’t be much left on the technical side… Should be scaring …
I'm Eric Barroca, CEO of Nuxeo, a leading open source software vendor, which develops a complete Enterprise Content Management (ECM) software platform to help companies better produce, process, publish, archive, expose and find their information from digital assets to transactional documents.