New approaches to going open highlighted in 2009

Looking back through our 451 CAOS Links posts there are a number of examples of companies “going open” in 2009 – either embarking on an open source project for the first time or expanding their engagement with open source through new initiatives.

Here’s some examples:

  • January: Prism Tech released its OpenSplice DDS low-latency data distribution software under the LGPL.
  • April: TIBCO contributed General Interface source code to the Dojo Foundation.
  • June: SAP increased its commitment to the Eclipse community, including the Eclipse Git Team Provider (EGit), the Eclipse Modeling Project (EMP) and the Eclipse Equinox Project.
  • June: Mark Logic released MarkLogic Toolkit for Excel under the Apache license.
  • July: Intuit launched an open source community for developers via its partner program.
  • October: JetBrains announced the free, open source Community Edition of its Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA.
  • October: Objectivity launched an open source developer network to dive interest in Objectivity/DB.
  • October: SAP announced plans to contribute to several Apache projects, including Maven, VXQuery, Tomcat, OpenEJB and ActiveMQ.
  • October: Mark Logic released its open source MarkLogic Toolkit for PowerPoint.

We also saw a couple of non-vendors releasing projects under open source licenses:

  • July: Lockheed Martin announced that it is to release an in-house developed social media tool under an open source software license.
  • July: Sony Pictures Imageworks launched an open source code site including visual effects, data storage and database migration software.

In our 2007 research report on “Going Open” we identified two main strategies for proprietary companies engaging with open source:

  • release of an open source project
  • business model shift

True business model shifts are rare and we did not see any examples in 2009, but there were a couple of examples of project-level shifts, including PrismTech, and JetBrains.

Overall though the examples of companies going open in 2009 demonstrate that there are now more nuanced and sophisticated strategies in play.

SAP’s two major initiatives in 2009 are examples of a foundational approach to open source – engaging with and contributing to the projects of open source foundations such as Apache and Eclipse and using the results within the in-house product development process.

Meanwhile there are similarities in the approaches taken by Tibco, Mark Logic, Intuit and Objectivity in using open source licensing to encourage developer and user communities to use and innovate on top of the companies’ proprietary products. Each vendor is going about this in its own way, but the result is that the vendors hopes to encourage open source development and application deployment on top of its suite of commercial software, much like Microsoft is doing with its “Open Edge” strategy.

Both of these strategies demonstrate that going open is not an either/or option for most companies but a matter of exploiting the benefits of open source to their advantage. One observation I would make about these approaches is that the “foundational approach” is highly inward-looking and about exploiting open source to improve internal development practices, whereas “open edge” is highly external-facing and about exploiting open source to encourage innovation outside the company.

Another observation is that while the traditional approaches to going open were largely based on exploiting vendor-led open source licensing as a distribution strategy to disrupt the market, the newer approaches are focused much more on exploiting community-led open source as a development strategy.

We previously noted an increased focus on community-led projects among open source specialist start-ups. From the examples above we see significant use of permissive licensing, which often (although not always) goes hand in hand with collaborative development.

Clearly SAP will use the Apache and Eclipse licenses respectively for the projects it is engaging in, while Mark Logic and JetBrains also used the Apache Software License, Intuit selected the Eclipse licenses (having been persuaded against using a license of its own creation) and Tibco made use of the BSD license for its contributions.

I expect to see more examples of both the foundational and open edge approaches to open source engagement as more proprietary companies get involved with open source in the next decade.

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