A blog for the enterprise open source community
Proprietary vendors, open source communities?Jay Lyman, July 8, 2009 @ 12:46 am ET
We’ve written before and covered the emulation of open source software development and communities by vendors that are not open source. One prime example is SolarWinds, which recently bucked the bad economy with a successful IPO. By providing low-price, low-friction sales and promoting its community of users that work with its own developers, SolarWinds resembles many of the open source software vendors I cover. In my recent conversation with SolarWinds, the company agreed it sees an open source approach helping it harness the power of individuals, which now number more than 20,000 in terms of active, registered SolarWinds users.
Another proprietary vendor, VMware, also recently displayed an open source-like approach with its Code Central, which is intended as a place where VMware administrators can trade, compare and refine scripts. Sounds somewhat like an open source software community, but obviously there are significant differences. Still, with its free versions and communities, VMware is another vendor that, wisely, sometimes behaves like an open source player.
The larger theme here is that open source software vendors must be aware that proprietary players are copying some of their best plays. At the same time, as we have covered in reports and blogs, we see an increased pervasiveness of ‘open core’ models, whereby the vendor’s core software is open source, but is also sold under commercial licensing terms as well. I’m reminded of a recent Twitter post from Matt Asay, who overheard, ‘Most companies, both open source and proprietary, now provide both free and paid versions.’ Matt then asks how should open source software differentiate, and this is a good and important question.
Our warnings to open source vendors not to undo the advantages of open source with complicated licensing, developer agreements etc. become even more significant. Dual licensing and a commercial version is fine, as long as everything is clear and up front.
Obviously, the biggest difference between open source and proprietary vendors is the code. This is where open source advantages that might not seem tied to available, open, transparent code can really differentiate those truly focused on open source. Regardless of whether an organization wants to take the source code of an open source project and work with it, that open code is tied to other advantages. First, is the modularity, flexibility and interoperability of open source software. Second is the avoidance of vendor lock-in, which looms large in enterprise IT and particularly in cloud computing, where lock-in is among the biggest concerns.
There are still significant differences between proprietary and open source software vendors and between the different types of software, and these differences aren’t going away. However, as proprietary players continue to emulate and take lessons from open source, vendors that actually are on the open source side will have to work harder to differentiate from them and compete with them.
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