Archive for September, 2008

Heroes

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Okay, it’s time for something totally off topic and, I hope, fun. I just finished watching this week’s Heroes. I’ll try not to spoil it, but if you haven’t seen it feel free to stop reading now.

It was Matt who got me hooked on the show during Season 1, and I was a little upset that the writer’s strike cancelled the second half of Season 2. Part of me was jaded going into Season 3 because of it.

But so far it has been great. They’ve closed some plot lines and managed to start some new ones. The best part has been the handling of Sylar. I like my superheroes to have a specialty and a weakness, and so I dislike “all powerful” characters like Sylar and Peter Petrelli. But the writers are having fun with him this year, and next week looks even better. I’m looking forward to seeing Zachary Quinto in next year’s Star Trek movie as Spock (excellent casting).

Oh, on the lead in show, Chuck, I thought all the Apple product placements were funny, from Chuck’s iPhone to the Apple monitor in his bedroom to using a Mac SE as the interface to the new, all powerful Intersect II computer. I mean, the Mac SE was cool, but …

Greed (Rant)

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I like money. Money buys a certain amount of security, and security buys freedom.

But Gordon Gekko was wrong: greed is not good. Trying to make money for money’s sake is usually the wrong thing to do. Build a product, help your customers, and take care of your employees and the money will come. Shortcuts often lead to heartache.

Take today for example. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had the lowest single point drop in its history, due to the fact that a bunch of people got greedy and for once Congress decided not to write a blank check. And for those of you who think the sky is going to fall if something isn’t done right now, I agree with these guys.

But on to other news that’s more directly related to open source, it looks like Ringside Networks is closing shop.

I really hate it when things like this happen. Now, I’m not worried about Bob Bickel. I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s pretty smart so he’ll be fine. But my guess is that he worked with a lot of cool, smart people who haven’t quite had his level of success. They probably put a lot into their product and now, due to some bad decisions, it seems to be over.

Bob blames it on bad luck (well, the lack of good luck which is the same thing). It sounds a lot like the problems with the current financial markets – ooops, it was just bad luck that the sub-prime mortgages we made to people who couldn’t pay, well, didn’t get paid.

I’m being a bit cruel and I’m definitely oversimplifying, but if you read his description of the failure from my point of view, it does seem a bit like sour grapes.

Although he doesn’t name them, it appears that while Ringside Networks was trying to raise money from VCs, they were approached by Google who wanted to acquire them. He writes “we decided that the larger company would enable us to get our technology to market sooner and with more impact.”

I read that as “w00t! We can cash out early!”.

When Google changed their minds and the acquisition didn’t happen, Bob said they were unable to get any money since “we kind of burned the VCs”.

Bah. You don’t “burn” VCs. VCs are soulless, pure businessmen. The best are unemotional. “You don’t want our money? Fine. See ya”. They could care less about not being able to fund Ringside. If their technology was so good, “the very best VC firms” would have been fighting to fund them.

What they did care about was that Google decided to pass on Ringside. Google is a company known for integrating some of the best technology out there as well as incubating new, small companies, so if Google didn’t want your product, there must have been a reason.

Bob doesn’t tend to work with crap, so my guess is that Ringside probably had a pretty good project going, but that greed got in the way. Bad decisions were made. It wasn’t luck. For instance, they could have taken the best term sheet offer they could and then sold to Google at a later date, but that would have diluted the company considerably. It might have made them less appealing (but then the deal never happened anyway) but they would still be around.

It is real easy for me to sit back and armchair quarterback this story, and like many things I probably have it wrong, but since this purpose of this blog is to provide a reference for others who might want to start an open source business there is one other thing I want to point out.

Bob says, “our development had stalled because of our desires to build stuff aligned with our new direction in the non-evil company.”

Back in the early part of 2007 we were approached by a company that wanted to acquire our company. We were pretty excited, but as things moved along we began to have doubts. I have a very strong idea of what an “open source” company should be, and unfortunately that doesn’t always agree with the guys on Sand Hill Road. Walking away from that deal was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I think one of the best.

During this process OpenNMS development damn near stopped. Thank goodness the community was able to step up and keep things going, because we were worthless. It is very easy to get caught up in the process and to let drop the things that made you attractive in the first place.

So that’s today’s small nugget of wisdom. Stay focused on your product, focused on your customers and focused on your team – no matter what – and you’ll make your own luck.

[Note: Ben had a lot to do with some of the thoughts behind this post]

Cloud Computing: What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Well, I guess there are worse people to be compared to than Larry Ellison. There is a short article on his views on cloud computing on CNET:

The problem is that every tech company now wants to be associated with cloud computing, no matter if their products and services meet the basic criteria. At least Ellison isn’t afraid to address the hijacking of the phrase by marketers, including Oracle’s.

I complained about this, although much less eloquently, on Coté’s podcast.

OpenNMS 1.5.94 Released

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Yesterday, after Ben and Matt overcame some issues with getting our deployment tool to work, OpenNMS version 1.5.94 was released.

I had been using it at a client site all week and I have to say it is the best OpenNMS yet. It is pretty much what will be in 1.6.0. We’re planning a 1.5.95 release for mid-October, with 1.6.0 following by Halloween.

There were over 120 bugs fixed between 1.5.93 and this release, as well as a number of new features (including an integration between OpenNMS and OTRS which I’ll talk more about next week).

We hope you enjoy this release and find it useful.

Yes, Virginia, There is Commercial Open Source

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

After yesterday’s post some people might think I’m a long-haired, all software must be free and open, hippie, and that anyone who is trying to make a buck on open source is evil.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I buy a lot of software, it is just that I pay small amounts for it. My belief is that software will take one of two paths. Stuff that is designed to just work out of the box with little user training will become a commodity, and the expensive, high-end stuff that requires a ton of consulting will become open. Plus, I have short hair (the better to fit under a motorcycle helmet) and I pay my mortgage on open source.

The problem is that neither of these paths make it easy to make the serious amounts of money in a short amount of time that one could in the past. People aren’t willing to pay 6 to 7 figures for commodity software, and it is hard to sell free and open software licenses since, well, they’re free.

Now what happens is that the people who long for the good old days and want to sell millions in software licenses stick the term “open source” on it and hope no one will notice. This is my take, in a nutshell, on the current state of “commercial open source” software.

But there are a couple of examples of companies that truly are “commercial open source” and are doing well. Plus, they are in the US of all places. However, the two companies that first come to mind are not in Silicon Valley. I know some amazing people in Silicon Valley, but sometimes when I’m there I get this vibe that it’s a bunch of smart people who are still a bit insecure, and thus they have to spend a lot of time patting themselves on the back for how clever they are. The clever/smart density outside of the Valley is much lower, so we actually have to get some work done [I kid, I kid].

The first company is Digium in Huntsville, Alabama. Our own Jeff Gehlbach is currently is Arizona at AstriDevCon and has let me know of some great things coming in the near future. I come from a telephony background, and what Digium has done with Asterisk is quite amazing. We use it, and I was humbled that OpenNMS was only one of two open source projects that made TechTarget’s Product Excellence Awards last year, and the other was Asterisk.

Even though a number of companies have tried to commercialize the Asterisk code, Digium remains solidly behind the free and open source model, as Mark Spencer recently said:

I believe it would be foolish to attempt to make Asterisk’s innovation only available as a proprietary product when clearly it is its Open Source foundation that made it so successful and continues to do so, in spite of emotional and to a lesser degree business challenges imposed by people who leverage my work without contributing — and in some cases directly attacking the very company that makes it possible for them to succeed.

The second one is my old favorite, Red Hat. Located about 30 miles away from our offices in Raleigh, NC, they are quietly moving forward, recently posting a 29% year over year revenue increase. Unlike the Valley open source firms, the goal is not to rapidly get acquired and cash out, but to build something lasting. In fact, it is Red Hat that is doing the acquiring.

What I love about Red Hat is that they enable us to exist. Even though we run on Windows and Solaris, if there wasn’t a stable, supported Linux distro out there my job would be a lot harder. I would estimate that about one third of our clients are also Red Hat clients, with another third using CentOS. The last third is spread around Solaris, SuSE and Debian/Ubuntu.

Neither of these companies have a business model based mainly on proprietary software licenses, yet they are doing well. As it was demonstrated, at least in Europe, there are different expectations overseas for software that calls itself open. As more and more business is being done overseas, it will be companies like these (and I hope, OpenNMS) that see the lions share of growth in market share and revenue.

That sounds pretty “commercial” to me.