Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
7/5/2007
03:58 PM
Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin
Commentary
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Shimmin On Software: How Open Source Can Save The Commercial Software Industry

Traditional software vendors, by working on their pet open-source efforts, are learning to apply the human-driven mechanism behind open source in the service of their traditional, closed-source solutions.

Contrary to what you may have heard, open-source software isn't going to destroy traditional closed-source vendors.

Back in 1998, when Netscape ushered in the era of open source with the release of Mozilla, most industry watchers predicted the eventual decay and downfall of licensed, closed-source software, citing peace, love, and other egalitarian concepts. But something interesting happened along the way toward bourgeoisie oblivion: Those contributing to and using open-source and those developing and buying closed-source software may turn out to be the same people.

The great, final battle anticipated by so many may not take place because traditional ISVs are realizing (somewhat late, admittedly) that in order to succeed, what counts most isn't whether or not source code goes out the door along with a product. What matters most is the ability to innovate while meeting customer requirements in a timely manner.

And what makes this possible has very little to do with Douglas Coupland's vision of cloistered developers working behind locked doors under which flat food (typically pizza) is served from time to time. Of course, good software requires good people, but what open source illuminated was the need for lots of good people, all working selflessly in the service of a broader and mutually beneficial outcome.

Initially, ISVs didn't see this and instead focused on strategies in which open-source software functioned as an appetizer for a much larger meal. Vendors would open-source a development tool or a nearly commoditized solution, such as an enterprise service bus, and then switch customers to more capable and complete "enterprise-ready" closed-source renditions of the same products.

Other vendors opted for a more purist approach, offering open-source solutions as an end unto themselves, deriving revenue from yearly support contracts and associated professional services engagements. Both approaches have their merits and have proven invaluable for traditional vendors such as IBM, Iona, Oracle, Sun, Tibco, and even Microsoft (by investing in Novell). But it's not about the software. It's about the people building the software.

Slowly these traditional vendors, by working on their pet open-source efforts, are learning to apply the human-driven mechanism behind open source in the service of their traditional, closed-source solutions -- even if right now the closed-source innovations bubble up through appetizer open-source offerings. These vendors are beginning to build open commercial communities using open-source tools and methodologies. They're seeking to create transparency by granting customers and partners access to bugs, requirements, and source code. And they're looking to build scalable community software capable of engendering collaboration across a large collection of contributors.

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