Adhering to the open source definition enables a large, passionate community to collaborate and share their work, insights and innovations on a given OSS project. Companies working in commercial open source add to that value by turning what may look to enterprises like “raw material” into whole product.
These combined efforts serve to improve products, while continuing to protect customers from the stranglehold of proprietary vendors. Beyond just open source, adherence to open specifications (such as CMIS in the content services space) and implementing open RESTful APIs provides a treasure trove to developers that they can quickly and efficiently build upon to add new innovative functionality into the solutions they craft to meet specific business needs.
When vendors employ open thinking at all these levels (open source, open standards, open APIs), there are commercial benefits across the board. The enterprise customer has a hedge against lock-in, can benefit from the innovation across the community, and, perhaps most importantly, can quickly and nimbly respond to changing market conditions while relying on the robust software quality commercial open source provides.
James Dixon, Pentaho Founder and CTO, has described the approach of commercial open source as being akin to a Bee Farm. Bees can, of course, create honey on their own in the wild, but most of us buy honey that comes from a farm. The beekeeper’s job is to create conditions that attract the bees in the first place, and then (bravely!) collect the resulting honey before refining, packaging and distributing in a way that appeals to consumers. This system of open collaboration adds value throughout the supply chain, from the bee to the beekeeper to the customer at the breakfast table.
Likewise, in commercial open source, the vendor takes on the role of beekeeper, creating conditions in a community that attract and retain contributors to help create a better product for all in a win-win-win scenario:
- The community gains open source software they can use for their own purposes. This software has more functionality and more resources than a ‘pure’ open source project could provide. In this way the community profits directly from the company and its customers.
- The customers gain higher quality software at a better price. The customers profit from the open source community’s ability to produce high-quality software.
- The company gains by growing and increasing its valuation as a result of keeping both sets of consumers content.
I can’t think of a more perfect metaphor for the role of commercial open source. In fact, as a nod to James’s insight, years ago the Alfresco user community named their organization the “Order of the Bee.” What a complimentary match for our company, which, after all, is named after an open air, outdoors experience!
The open source mindset provides areas of opportunities along the entire supply chain, from creation of software to products and services on which the software runs. Just as bees are integral to honey, open source is integral to today’s digital business environment.
About the Author / Chris Wiborg
Chris Wiborg is Vice President of Product Marketing at Alfresco Software. In his role, Chris is responsible for setting and executing the go-to-market strategy for Alfresco’s Digital Business Platform. Connect with him on Twitter and Linkedin.