Thursday, July 14, 2005

This recent article in Information Week discusses the "boomlet" in open source business applications.

There are problems. Free is never free. Open source is like the free puppy, it explains, that you then have to feed for the next 10 years. You'll need to spend on consultants and programmers to adjust the product to your specific needs. In fact, if I read this correctly, that's how these companies are expecting to make their money---free program, lots of services. And you'd probably need a IT guru type on staff to stay on top of it.

Here's two paragraghs from the article:

Yet balancing commercial and community needs isn't easy. In fact, given the growing crowds of open-source startups, one of the biggest questions is this: Can this new crop of open-source entrepreneurs build successful businesses when their core software is built by an army of faceless code jockeys, with little interest in helping guys like Newton earn his next million? "There is a disincentive to contribute, and most of those vendors have difficulty building up a healthy number of outside engineers that give them the leverage of the open-source community when developing their products and services," says Brian Behlendorf, co-founder of one of open source's great successes, the Apache Web Server Project, and founder and chief technology officer of CollabNet Inc., a maker of software that helps programmers work together. "You see some developers who say, 'There's someone already getting paid to develop the complex stuff, so I'll leave that to them.'"

Yet the new breed of hybrid commercial, open-source startups depends on open-source programmers to contribute and test code, and to bring new ideas, so winning the respect of the fickle open-source developer community is vital. And even if a company succeeds in getting a mass of supportive programmers, it's difficult to manage toward business goals.

It was one thing to develop an international product like Linux that was going to be used by the IT community for their own needs, but it sounds like quite a different idea to get developers to contribute for free to help a private enterprise make a profit.

So, for a lot of per diems and probably a full timer staff position, a company can avoid paying for software licenses once (plus upgrades). It just doesn't make sense to me. And MISys does have a community of end-users and business partners, in the four figure range, often suggesting improvements or adding to the "wish list", and we do our best to respond to those requests. It seems to me a company becomes more dependent, not less, with open-source product that is supposedly but not really free. Am I wrong? I'd love to hear from you!

1 comment:

Al Alessi said...

As a footnote, a recent MS ad shows MS Windows servers roughly equal in cost to Red Hat Linux, but if you add in 24X7 support you're looking at Red Hat being 3X the cost. I'm neither pro or anti Microsoft (tho I admit to being a Mac-o-phile), but my point is simply that what can appear to be "free", like an open source product, often has other costs that are exhorbitant. Did I spell that right?