For Sale? It Depends - Who's The Buyer? - InformationWeek
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9/3/2008
12:24 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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For Sale? It Depends - Who's The Buyer?

Would you want your company to be acquired by a larger company, I remember asking Ross Mason, founder and CTO of MuleSource, which provides the Mule enterprise service bus as an alternative to commercial integration products. His answer surprised me.

Would you want your company to be acquired by a larger company, I remember asking Ross Mason, founder and CTO of MuleSource, which provides the Mule enterprise service bus as an alternative to commercial integration products. His answer surprised me.We were sitting in MuleSource offices in San Francisco one afternoon, talking about what a big, proprietary company needs to do to maintain confidence in the open source code that it's acquired. Citrix had just acquired XenSource and Sun had just acquired MySQL.

To me, Mason was the epitome of the independent, self-actuated open source leader who would never want to wake up and find himself inside an oppressive, bureaucratic company. But I had reservations about that presumption. It's all well and good to admire the independence of open source leaders. It's another to condemn a small open source team to a lifetime of inch by inch, incremental improvements with no payback.

Scott Dietzen at Zimbra, I know, looked forward to the leverage Zimbra applications would gain once they were inside Yahoo and being promoted as Yahoo online applications. But he's been less visible and vocal since the acquisition. As much as we might be glad Zimbra apps are reaching a wider audience, that doesn't mean we don't miss hearing Scott's voice more often than we do.

Simon Crosby has gone inside Citrix, and while scarcely silent, there are some conversations about open source and Microsoft that are simply unlikely to recur as he settles into his new role. But if there is anyone who does not wish to spend a lifetime making small, incremental improvements, it is Simon Crosby. Citrix offers the unparalleled prospect of a Great Leap Forward for Xen.

So you can't be too sure what the answer will be when you ask a leader of an open source company would he want to be acquired. Mason paused for a moment, then answered, "It depends on the company."

By that he meant does the company get it when it comes to tolerating the ways of open source code development? Or maybe he meant, would it be able to understand open source communities and also be able to pay sufficiently for MuleSource's ware's? When imposing unwonted idealism on the open source developer, it might be wise to think what he might accomplish the next time around with a hundred million dollars in his pocket.

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