Commercial Open Source: A Reality Check
As some open source vendors gain ground and continue to move upstream, a battle is intensifying. Some proprietary solutions are beginning to feel the pressure and responding, as you might expect, with FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tactics, much of which may have been applicable a year ago but today doesn’t accurately reflect how far open source has come.
Many commercial open source vendors are responding very confidently based on their increased product maturity, significantly lower TCO, rapid adoption among the community, and a long list of recognizable companies who are successfully using those open source solutions today.
One battle that played out recently occurred very publicly between Demandware, a full-server on-demand ecommerce solution, and Varien, the company behind the open source ecommerce software Magento. The initial volley came from Stephan Schambach, Founder of Demandware, who wrote a blog downplaying the role of open source for any serious ecommerce applications. A quick response came from Roy Rubin, CEO of Varien, The Magento Company who addressed very directly why Magento is gaining marketshare and why previous concerns about open source are not accurate today. Stephan responded with a second blog clarifying some of the issues but what was really interesting were the comments mostly in support of open source.
Recently Varien and one of their top partners, Lyons Consulting Group held a webinar, that attracted hundreds of attendees, to set the record straight about open source ecommerce. Titled “Open Source: Hype vs. Reality,” it addressed openly the pros and cons of an open source solution and discussed the distinction between traditional open source and commercial open source. Two interesting polls were also conducted showing that 65% of the attendees were currently using an open source solution and that the top reasons were flexibility and value.
The notion of commercial open source, while not necessarily new, is being defined with greater clarity and is gaining tremendous traction in the market. Companies like Varien/Magento, SugarCRM, OpenBravo, Compiere, Acquia/Drupal, Pentaho, Alfresco, and many others are more or less becoming hybrids and blending a supported, vendor backed solution that proprietary solution have provided with the openness, flexibility, and lower TCO of open source.
Commercial open source generally means that there is a strong company behind it managing product direction, providing SLA based support, warranties, and indemnification, and continuing to add new functionality.
Commercial open source remains true to the spirit of open source by providing access to source code and the ability to customize and integrate easily enabling the community to continue adding new functionality faster than any single company could do themselves. The result is increased adoption by the mid market and even larger companies who were previously wary of traditional open source but are now implementing with greater confidence. Yes commercial open source comes at a price, as most are packaged as an annual subscription, but generally the total cost is significantly less than proprietary solutions.
Proprietary solutions will continue to feel the pressure of open source not because of any particular product but because (in my opinion) it is just a better, more sustainable and economical model for developing software.
Matt Assay recently claimed that “The platform wars are over, and open source has won” and Eric Barroca’s post “Open Source vs. Proprietary Software Platforms: the Market’s Perspective” do a great job explaining that open source as a platform is simply a better and more economical way of developing software. While they may be right, the battle is just beginning.
Contributing blogger Scott Dahlgren is an independent consultant helping small and mid-size technology companies extract greater value from their partner and channel relationships. And he also runs marathons through the woods of Connecticut. Here are all of Scott’s blog entries. Follow The VAR Guy via RSS; Facebook; Identi.ca; Twitter; and via his Newsletter; Webcasts and Resource Center.