Open Source Is Not A Marketing Term – Part Deux

Slashdot has an interesting article Has Open Source Lost Its Halo?”. It seems to mirror a lot of my ideas in the first Open Source Is Not A Marketing Term post.

In a post by Gordon Haff he brings up the term “predatory open source” to describe the actions by some companies to open source non-strategic products in order to undermine commercial competition.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I have been saying for a long time that software is going to take two paths: it will either become a commodity or open.

Commodity software is not necessarily bad. The success of such things as World of Warcraft goes to show that there is a huge market for inexpensive, high-value software that “just works”.

But enterprise “anything” is hard – from network management, to CRM and ERP systems, to content management systems and databases. In these service intensive fields, solutions are best achieved by combining skilled experts with the proper software tools. I posit that it is impossible to come up with a “point and click” solution to enterprise problems.

As the goal of OpenNMS is nothing short of becoming the de facto network management platform of choice, I guess our project could be seen as being predatory to IBM’s Tivoli/Netcool, CA’s Unicenter, HP’s OpenView and BMC’s PATROL and other products, but I see it as just the natural evolution of the market. I doubt very seriously that we show up on the radars of those companies, but I bet we will soon.

The reason is that the fact that something is open source doesn’t make it successful, useful or cost saving. First and foremost it has to be better than other options. Eclipse isn’t the default Java IDE because it’s open source, it’s the default Java IDE because it’s extremely useful.

Which gets me harping on the community again. At SCaLE (presentations coming soon I’ve been promised) I had a slide paraphrasing Bill Clinton with “It’s the community, stupid”. If IBM open sourced Lotus 1-2-3, I doubt Steve Ballmer would be calling up Bill Gates screaming that Microsoft Excel was doomed.

The article mentions something else:

Rosenberg is more disturbed by the bandwagon jumpers: the companies, mostly startups, belatedly going open-source in order to ride a trend, while paying only lip service to the community and its values.

While jumping on the open source marketing bandwagon my produce a flurry of press and attention, in the long term it is doomed to fail. You can’t own a community and you can’t force a community to do something it doesn’t want to do, and in that fact is an inherent freedom. Piss off the community and they can just up and fork to another project. Try to co-opt a community and they’ll ignore you. But working with a community can change an entire industry.

I only have two rules with respect to OpenNMS:

  1. OpenNMS will never suck.
  2. OpenNMS will always be 100% free.

Luckily the community agrees with me.