Government // Enterprise Architecture
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1/30/2008
04:59 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Open Source 'Movement' Becoming A Gold Rush

I see references to the open source "movement," as if it were a cohesive ideological gathering, like the Labor Movement of the 1930s or maybe the Wobblies. I agree there are certain shared values among open source developers and a favored way of doing things, but I've always doubted the political agenda. After the $1 billion Sun/MySQL deal, however, my doubts have been erased. It's clear there is a movement -- and it's headed toward the bank.

I see references to the open source "movement," as if it were a cohesive ideological gathering, like the Labor Movement of the 1930s or maybe the Wobblies. I agree there are certain shared values among open source developers and a favored way of doing things, but I've always doubted the political agenda. After the $1 billion Sun/MySQL deal, however, my doubts have been erased. It's clear there is a movement -- and it's headed toward the bank.Open source is a better way of developing software. It's a method of organization that emphasizes community-determined merit -- quasi-democratic leadership. The developers may not elect their leaders, but they can vote with their feet if they don't like them. In that sense, open source stands for flat organizations, free assembly of talent, and free discussion of submitted code, regardless who submits it.

Does this body of beliefs amount to a movement? To the extent that it's a departure from the previous way of doing things, yes, it's a rebellion and invocation of new values. There's also the fact that many divergent and competing open source groups can be brought together by a common foe, such as a Microsoft saying its patents govern some of the code in Linux. But beyond that, the agenda isn't so much political as technical. The participants want recognition for the coding they do. They want the free expression of their talent. And sometimes that free expression leads to organizations that have a knack for producing business value and rewarding developers.

MySQL was one of the few early open source projects that always had its eye on the prize. So was JBoss. Now there are many emulators of their example and they've all been animated by the by Sun/MySQL deal.

"We are very happy about it," said a smiling Andy Astor yesterday. He's CEO of EnterpriseDB, one of the few remaining database companies behind a vigorous open source project, PostgreSQL.org. "The MySQL deal ends discussion about whether open source is going mainstream," he says. Andy should be smiling. With few other companies available, and none besides EnterpriseDB claiming Oracle compatibility, his stock just went up.

The other open source databases still out there are Ingres, based on the database system released from CA, and Firebird, based on the former InterBase. At the Ingres site, they're still refuting the assertion that "Open source is a niche IT sector," or not part of the mainstream. Like Andy says, you can save your breath on that debate.

Don't forget Greenplum, based on PostgreSQL, but strictly speaking, it's a data warehouse company, not a database company. Still, there's a parallelized version of PostgreSQL underneath the data warehouse.

MySQL is the M in the open source Lamp stack. Harold Goldberg, CEO of Zend Technologies, is supplier of PHP or the P in Lamp. He said: "I did not expect Sun to buy MySQL, but I think they're smart. It takes them to where the Web is going, not where it used to be."

"We're very excited about it," he adds. What goes for EnterpriseDB also goes for Zend. Its stock just went up, too. They should be excited.

Amit Pandey, CEO of Terracotta, maker of an open source Java application which offloads frequently used data from the database for scalable Web serving, says of MySQL, "It's always great to see such a validation of open source code." Since the Sun/MySQL deal, Terracotta has come up with an additional $10 million in venture capital funding.

Greenplum, EnterpriseDB, Zend, and Terracotta, not to mention Hyperic, SugarCRM, JasperSoft, and a dozen others, are all software companies establishing their products as open source code. The day will soon be here when it is next to impossible to start a company any other way. If your software isn't good enough to win recognition in the marketplace through free download, then it's not good enough.

Pouring millions into a sales force and marketing department to establish a proprietary product that couldn't be established as open source code just won't be feasible. Too many millions will be flowing into those open source companies that have illustrated that they can read the market correctly, have the talent to product software that's needed, and can withstand competition by invoking the better way of doing things, open source's development process. So open source practitioners may constitute a movement, motivated by certain ideals of individual freedom and group initiative, but it's a movement that more and more has a commercial bent. When an open source project ends up with a sponsoring company, it's starting to resemble the commercial companies it was once cast against.

The main difference between an open source company and a commercial company lies not in the end sought, the monetization of its labor, but the path it takes to achieve it.

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