Some very friendly seller-bashing happened at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC West) this week. The session was more fun than informative, but there were thoughtful points to mull on nonetheless:
Michael Skok from North Brudge Venture Partners corralled a massive panel:
- Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL (we adore Marten)
- Tim Golden, SVP from Bank of America
- Nancy Faigen, Linux GM at Novell
- Billy Marshall, CEO of rPath
- Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media
- John Roberts, CEO of SugarCRM
Is Oracle a friend or a foe of open source? Today's acquisition of SleepyCat raised collective eyebrows. We live in a heterogeneous world, and that's what drove the discussion.
Faigen commented that saving $2/device is meaningful if you are producing thousands of devices. The relationship of cost, flexibility, and quality is important as a single continuum. She believes that as we move forward, buying will be about quality rather than price - whatever solutions open source vendors deliver, they need to have higher quality than the alternatives. Buyers switch to commercial solutions because it's perceived to be safer, so sellers need to eliminate the perceived risk around open source solutions.
Sun recently open sourced much of Solaris, and CA has done the same with Ingres. Will this trend make much of an impact? Will it prove to be Sun's saving grace? Mickos predicts that more and more closed-source projects will become open source. And though some will do it from necessity, it will still be more the exception than the rule. Marshall sees a very interesting case study here, a larger competitor with a closed model having to go up against smaller competitors with open models. In this analysis, architectural participation remains to be proven.
Vendors go through an interesting analysis when deciding if and how to open their software. First, they need to be convinced that the community will have better things to add to the code than what would be added internally. One panelist commented that the worst thing to do is to open up the source code on doggy software, and hope that the community will fix it. LOL.
Skok also posited this question: Has the market moved beyond IP concerns (especially those created by Microsoft and SCO)? Has shared ownership made shared risk acceptable? Faigen says that if you install open source software as a buyer, you worry about copyright infringement; there's a risk in open code that doesn't exist in closed code. O'Reilly chimes in, stating that this worry hasn't gone away, but it isn't a defining issue for the community. (And really, this isn't a worry just for open source; it's an issue for all software packages.) For anecdotal evidence, look at how many companies can't issue their software as open source because they don't have clear title to it.
Faigen had one of the better sad-but-true comments: it's hard for larger companies to serve as references in open source, because this draws a target on their back for lawsuits. Golden says this is why open soure will eventually win out, but that the US won't be the leader.
Across all of these issues, it's worthwhile to note that there are other communities with leverage besides open souirce. The power of the open source community is what's important, not just the model....and it's not clear yet how this will evolve as new buyers emerge.