Open source makes development faster

Open source makes development faster.

I was having a nice chat this morning with John Newton, now CTO of Alfresco Software, an open source ECM vendor. He's based in England.

We chatted amiably about his conversion rates, about his ambitions, about how open source now seems like the only way to go.

Then he said something remarkable.

From a standing start in January 2005 and we're 70% of the way there toward a full ECM suite. It's organic, it's community led, but it's certainly faster – the notion of a beta, and being transparent about the process, makes things faster. We're not trying to hide things until they're ready. We're constantly putting out new functionality, and people are doing stuff with it. The beta cycle is constant, and we're refining much faster. We're on our fifth major release since going production in October of last year. It's a much faster process.

Short version. Open source makes development faster.

Newton, who was previously at closed source outfits like Documentum, said venture capital support has basically dried-up for such start-ups. "The traditional enterprise sales model doesn't work for anyone, except for huge companies like Oracle and IBM."

Since launching in early 2005, on the other hand, Alfresco has greatly exceeded its internal targets for downloads, customer count and community support. But it's the speed of the development process Newton finds most remarkable.

"I have been surprised at how quickly we get stuff out. When we started I never would have guessed we could get a product out by June, in beta. Then we went production at the end of October. That's 10 months. That's pretty amazing. And we've added important capabilities since then."

Those new additions are also more thoroughly-tested. "The amount of testing that gets done when it's transparent is orders of magnitude larger than an internal QA (Quality Assurance) department. There's only so much a QA department can do. You get to robustness a lot, lot faster."

So while many open source projects have been following in the footsteps of established players, Newton expects innovations to accelerate as they pass those players in complexity. A pretty bold prediction for a Friday.

But when a Mr. Newton gets hit in the head by something, the world often changes.

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