Open source has become mainstream but still drives innovation

Open source has become mainstream but still drives innovation

Summary: Commentary -Five years ago, I joined a tiny startup that was promising to democratize integration (Talend). Coming from another data integration vendor – a proprietary one – I liked that I would be able to leverage my market expertise.

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Commentary -Five years ago, I joined a tiny startup that was promising to democratize integration (Talend). Coming from another data integration vendor – a proprietary one – I liked that I would be able to leverage my market expertise. But, like most people at the time, I knew nothing about open source. Of course, I had heard about Linux, I had a vague idea of what MySQL was, but that was the extent of my open source expertise. The two founders of Talend told me not to worry, that open source was only in its infancy, and that we would be part of building it.

Becoming mainstream
At that time, most open source vendors were trying to replicate what proprietary vendors were doing, or what they had failed to do. The value proposition was simple: vendors would say they were like X, but more open, more extensible, and less expensive. Take a few of the successes of the late 2000s and who they were compared to: MySQL (Oracle), JBoss (WebSphere), Jaspersoft (BusinessObjects), Talend (Informatica), SugarCRM (Siebel).

By and large, these vendors were successful. The first “billion dollar baby” of open source was MySQL, when Sun bought the company for $1 billion. At that time, Techcrunch headline was: “Sun Picks Up MySQL For $1 Billion; Open Source Is A Legitimate Business Model.” And indeed, 2008 marked a turning point for open source: more and more enterprise deployments; acquisitions, like in the “real” corporate world; more and more funding. The 451 Group tracks the history of VC funding in open source – the graph in this post shows that investment in 2008 was at an all-time high, which would only be matched again in 2011.

Fast forward to today. Red Hat just became the second billion dollar open source baby. Of course, they are the first billion-dollar-revenue open source vendor. But I believe the impact is as great as when MySQL was valued a billion dollar. Why? Because it settles the debate: you can build, and grow, a sustainable and scalable commercial open source business.

Driving innovation
As open source vendors were becoming mainstream, they also started to lose some of their differentiation. Today, you can’t continue to scale a business by merely being “the open source alternative to X.” People running X are not stupid. They have seen the threat, and reacted to it. And even though they will not admit it publicly, proprietary vendors are keeping close tabs on their open source competitors. We are well beyond the basic, primitive FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) strategy that was used in the past. Proprietary vendors have learned to compete with open source.

In order to continue to strive, open source vendors must continue to be different. One way open source has been retaining this differentiation is through innovation.

Unlike their proprietary counterparts, open source vendors are younger, more agile companies. They use open, standard-based technology stacks. Innovation is part of the open source DNA. Let’s look at three of the major IT “r-evolutions” of the past few years (I don’t really like the term “revolution”, I think most IT changes are evolutionary in nature, and that this evolution is simply going faster or slower).

  • Cloud computing – open source powers the cloud. Most of the cloud infrastructure is based on the open source LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) stack. It’s not only because open source technology works well in this context, but also because the open source licensing model makes it easier on cloud providers to scale their infrastructure. The main non-open-source cloud is Microsoft’s Azure, but I don’t think they run into licensing conflicts with themselves.
  • Big data – even though all vendors are trying to jump on the big data bandwagon, the core big data technology stack, Hadoop, is before all an open source project, managed by the Apache Software Foundation. It’s actually interesting to see how competing Hadoop distribution vendors work on the same project, and build features that also benefit the others. It’s of course not new in the open source world (look at all the ESBs built on the same Apache projects) but might be the first time it gets so strategic.
  • Mobile – there is probably less obvious of an open source play in mobile computing. Google’s Android is viewed as open source, despite some controversy in the way Google releases source code. And even though Apple’s iOS is clearly not open source, it shares most of its frameworks and underlying operating system components with OS X, Apple’s desktop software. OS X and iOS are built on top of over 200 open source projects, and their very kernel is based on top of an open source kernel called Darwin.
  • Today, building an open source company without a strong, clear innovation path, one that creates a real technology disruption, would be doomed to failure. The “old” generation of open source vendors must be innovation drivers if they want to continue to strive (for example, what Jaspersoft does with mobile BI, or Talend with big data integration). And a “new” generation is emerging, which include the cloud stack vendors such as Openstack or Eucalyptus, Hadoop vendors such as Hortonworks, Cloudera or MapR, and many more.
  • It’s no longer about being mainstream. It’s about the next generation of innovation.

    biography
    Yves de Montcheuil is the Vice President of Marketing at Talend, a leader in open source integration. Yves holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science and has 20 years of experience in software product management, product marketing and corporate marketing. He is also a presenter, author, blogger, social media enthusiast, and can be followed on Twitter: @ydemontcheuil.

  • Topics: Emerging Tech, Open Source

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    18 comments
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    • Open source not always good enough

      Open source is not always good enough and enterprise must very often use propietary applications. SQL Server / Oracle simply makes more sens then MySQL, .Net is a richer developpement world and MS Office is still the way to go.
      gbouchard99@...
      • really?

        >SQL Server / Oracle
        Use PostgreSQL instead of the Larry's bloat
        >.Net
        might be richer for only one of many platforms, and BTW, where did all of PHP, Java Perl, Python and Ruby go, do they belong to .NET as well?
        >MS Office is still the way to go.
        To go where? Bad habits are not the way to go.
        eulampius
      • But oftentimes it is good enough!

        Nobody said open source was ALWAYS the right choice. And there are cases where Oracle makes more sense than MySQL - as there are cases where MySQL is a better choice. You say .Net is richer than... what? Eclipse? And yes, Office dominates the desktop.
        ydemontcheuil
        • .NET vs Eclipse

          .NET is a runtime, Eclipse is an interactive development environment. It would be more appropriate to compare .NET to Java.
          bmonsterman
    • Well . . .

      "Unlike their proprietary counterparts, open source vendors are younger, more agile companies. "

      You say that, but there are some warning signs with the biggest open source players. Firefox was really slow trying to respond to Chrome. It took them a while to respond, and they're actually having to change the way they do things to become agile again.

      And Microsoft became a bit more agile with IE as well. We're now with IE 9, looking at IE 10 soon. They're far more responsive now after that really long lull with IE 6.

      So we have open source struggling to become agile again, and closed source starting to pick up the slack and become more agile itself. I'm not convinced this is really so clear cut. Open Source projects should not fall into the trap of thinking that being open source automatically gives them agility. They have to make a conscious effort to keep themselves agile. Same goes with every project, in fact, whether it's open or closed.
      CobraA1
      • Look at google, the open source version of MS

        open source didnt save them from becoming a bloated, unfocused company.

        Open source couldnt save Sun either.
        otaddy
        • I guess by 'bloated'

          You mean with cash? Ya, thats a horrible thing to happen to a company. I have no clue what you mean by 'unfocused'. Google tries lots of new things, not all are successful, but that hardly qualifies as unfocused, more like innovative.
          anothercanuck
      • Open vs Proprietary

        Here's my take of their advantages and disadvantages.

        Open source -
        Advantage, it is open, good ideas can get incorporated and its transparent system will allow for an efficient quality maintenance, and opportunities gained through choice (I could not emphasize this last one enough). They may even serve as competition (which would not easily dissappear) for the other big players out there.
        Disadvantage, it may not be a fast as the big companies especially if it doesn't have a strong community of developers since it lacks financial backing, and sometimes they may not prioritize the needs of certain consumers, which maybe due to lack of the 'market incentive' (although this freedom from economic considerations maybe an advantage by itself in giving developers freedom to progress with their work without unnecessary interference).

        Proprietary
        Advantage, they got money, and driven by competition they may actually cater to needs of computer users out there. They may have motive to 'make things happen' at an appreciable speed.
        Disadvantage, their closed, and you're going to have to deal with a corporation or so trying to dictate you, not to mention inability to deal with possible inferior products.

        Note that this is just my humble opinion.
        JOB83
    • You haven't proven innovation

      You simply listed a bunch of examples where open source products are used in a commodity fashion. You even go so far as to admit this:
      [i]because the open source licensing model makes it easier on cloud providers to scale their infrastructure[/i]

      Open source has been successful because it is free, not because it was first. Android was the open source copy of Palm, Microsoft, and Apple mobile. MySQL was the open source copy of Oracle and SQL Server. LAMP was the open source copy of any number of other web platforms. Hadoop is the implementation of an idea that others came up with long earlier.

      Open source is good at bringing new implementations of existing products but those new implementations rarely bring any new ideas or new ways of doing things. They are simply "free" equivalents of existing products that start off as highly crippled until they can gather enough interest so that eventually they become only slightly crippled and then only in ways that don't matter for the current implementation.

      MySQL is a perfect example. No one would dare suggest that MySQL offers features as broad as Oracle or even MS SQL Server but in many implementations, that's just fine. If you don't need any of those "fancy" features from Oracle, why pay for them? But don't kid yourself, MySQL is not an innovative product.
      toddbottom3
      • Exactly my point

        As I said, in the past, a number of successful open source projects were new implementations of existing concepts. This has changed. When you say "Hadoop is the implementation of an idea that others came up with long earlier": would you care to elaborate?
        ydemontcheuil
      • And you haven't proven innovation by proprietary companies.

        Oracle was not the first database, neither was MS SQL. Palm was an innovator in the handheld computing in the 90's, but MS and Apple just copied Palm's idea. On the other hand, Apache is an innovator for putting web server software into the hands of the masses.

        I have read hundreds of posts on ZDNet stating open source is not innovative, but no one has ever responded to my queries for examples of innovations from proprietary companies, in say, the last decade, since open source has really been on the grow.
        anothercanuck
        • Innovation can take many forms

          Thanks @anothercanuck for chiming in. Innovation can indeed take many forms. Democratization of technology is one: bringing to the market an easy-to-use and bloat-free product, that any company can use, is innovation. Building a MapReduce framework is also innovation.
          And indeed, I would too be interested to hear about recent, groundbreaking innovations from proprietary vendors. There must be some - open source does not have a monopoly there!
          ydemontcheuil
    • Open source innovative?

      Since every open source applicaiton I've see is a copy of proprietary software ranging from godawful to adequate, the idea that it's innovative is rubbish. Yes it might be technically possible for OSS to be innovative, but reality says otherwise.

      That doesn't mean it's not useful and it also provides a safety net for those with time and expertise, but no money. I currently use and modify Moodle, PhProjekt and Bug Tracker - all open source and very useful, but innovative - no.
      tonymcs@...
      • But you just dont get it

        See, open source is a "clean room" implementation of popular proprietary software, which means that it is better...because, well, just cause it is!

        Why must you hate "free". Not free as in freedom, but free as in there's no such thing as a free beer.
        otaddy
      • Hard to innovate when its designed by distributed committees

        Innovation tends to result from someone having the drive to bring an idea into incarnation, inspiring all around them to that one purpose.

        Most projects don't innovate because all the inputs from too many forces too many compromises.
        Patanjali
        • Governance is key

          Absolutely agree. Which is why there are two options: strong governance by a "regulated" community (Apache model), or leadership from a commercial open source vendor who drives roadmap and leads innovation.
          ydemontcheuil
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      My company http://www.sqiar.com/ provides data warehousing services on a number of platforms both opensource and commercial and I can say positively that commercial software has a clear edge over opensource
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