Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Big Company Open Source Behavior Patterns

This post was also published in InfoWorld.

Open source has definitely challend the business models of existing infrastructure software players. Following is an ontology of different types of big company reactions to open source, and an example of each type of behavior pattern.

Join the Party - IBM

"Join the Party" open source players contribute extensively to existing open source projects, even those that are competing with their proprietary products. IBM has regularly made major contributions to open source technologies that compete with their own products. Examples include IBM's support of Linux, which competes with their AIX UNIX operating system, and Geronimo and PHP, which compete with its WebSphere business. IBM is clearly the most sophisticated large player in the open source space - IBM follows its customers, and if the customers want open source, IBM is going to be the one to deliver it to them, and make money with services along the way.

Run like Hell - Oracle

"Run like Hell" open source players move out of rapidly commoditizing open source areas and into new markets. Oracle knows more than anyone that databases are quickly becoming a commodity. That's why they are moving into applications, snapping up Peoplesoft and Siebel to build marketshare in a growing, high margin business.

Screw with It - SCO, Oracle

"Screw with It" companies inherently dislike open source and do what they can to sabotage it. Some people like to kick puppies that can one day grow into big dogs. Which is why SCO sued IBM over Linux, and Oracle buys little companies that MySQL depends on. None of this will do much, but it makes the folks running the companies feel a little better about their respective declining UNIX and database futures.

We're Open, Too - Sun

"We're Open, Too" players open source their competing proprietary products long after a successful open source project has eclipsed their proprietary alternatives. Sun open sources their products in this way to much fanfare, but not much avail, examples include Solaris vs. Linux, NetBeans vs. Eclipse, SunONE Application Server vs. JBOSS, SPARC vs. x86, etc. This strategy is a stark contrast to the IBM "join the party" strategy, where IBM takes the best of their proprietary products and adds it to existing successful open source project like Linux.

Buy Your Way In - Novell

"Buy Your Way In" players acquire successful open source technologies and attempt to sell and service them through their existing channels. Novell has aggressively acquired open source technologies, including Ximian and SuSe. While their stock has been stagnant, it is not as stagnant as if they had still been selling Netware all along.

Open Source Trashcan - BEA, SAP

"Open Source Trashcan" companies are completely tone-deaf to open source software, regularly state that open source is insecure and not going anywhere, and basically have no open source strategy beyond orphaning failed products into open source, like BEA's Beehive and SAP Database.


Mic said...

Amen. Very nicely spoken.

Gerhardt Zenzl said...

And where does your company sit - I've seen a ton of better open source alternatives to ActiveGrid - that don't require all your proprietary extensions. Are you going to make money with consultants, like IBM? Is that your business model?

John Dragoon said...

Peter, enjoyed the muse. I'll not comment on the other companies mentioned but for Novell (I admit, I'm their CMO and a bit biased), you only got it partly right when you classify our behaviour as "Buy Your Way In".

A more appropriate pattern for Novell should read, "Bought their way in and expanded the party". It's certainly true that our acquisitions of SUSE and Ximian accelerated our participation in Linux and Open Source...but we're not just "buying our way in". Our acquisitions in this space brought some of the industry's most talented open source engineers on the planet. These engineers don't just work on Novell's agenda but they are making siginicant contributions to key open source projects including the Linux kernel, the Reiser file system, YaST, Mono, GNOME, KDE, Evolution, Mozilla, Better Desktop,, get the picture.

And we aren't just placing our talented engineers on these important intiatives, we put our money where our mouth is. After our acquistion of AppArmor, an application security solution for Linux, we decided it would be best for the open source industry at large if we open sourced the we did and others are now using it.

Oh, and unlike many on your list, we actually use these technologies to run Novell's business from the desktop to the data center. Saved a lot of money in the process by the way.

So yes, we bought our way in but like any good party goer, we're not only bringing our own food and drink, but we are making the party better for all.

John D

prla said...

Nice post, Peter.

And very cool to see John standing up for Novell. I've had the chance of speaking to some of the people that started Ximian and it's easy to see these are bright engineers and spokesmen for the open source community. And I do think that it was great for everyone that Novell (it was Novell, could be anyone else on general principle) gave them more room and better conditions to develop their excellent work.

For instance, would the awesome Xgl stuff have happened if Ximian weren't bought in the first place? I guess not. They didn't even get out of the red until the acquisition.

So, hats off to Novell. Now only to keep the effort going in the best way...

Peter Yared said...

I agree, I am a big fan of Novell and all of the contributions they are making!

DarlMcLied said...

You've forgotten
"last ditch, hail-mary pass, to get the drowning company & its stock price back up."

The most famous being, of course, Copeland/Corel

This MAY end up happening to Novell eventually, and it's too bad BeOS didn't try this strategy - for them it may have worked, since they already had such a large, dedicated, sophisticated user community to work with.

webmink said...

Some interesting ideas, but for a former Sun employee with a Sun fixation you're a bit short on the facts about Sun :-) I have an interest, of course, being responsible for Sun's future strategy for open source.

First, your facts are selective and suspect. Some examples: NetBeans was open sourced long before Eclipse was even a glimmer in IBM's eye - it was almost the first thing Sun did with it on acquisition in 2000. You neglect to mention, or Sun's help with Mozilla and the subsequent donation of the I18N framework, or Sun's work at GNOME and on accessibility. You ignore Sun's work at Apache, which includes the donation of Tomcat among a great deal else.

Second, your perspective on history is a bit dodgy. One view of Sun is to consider it the original open source startup, adding BSD-licensed Unix to commodity hardware in 1981 to disruptively create a new market. It's the company that changed the face of storage by surrendering NFS as free software. It's the company that proved that shipping source was a game-changer in the Microsoft era by making full source of Java available in 1995.

Our strategy today is of deep involvement in open source and your implication that it's a "me too" effort belies the fact that anyone with GNU/Linux running is dependent on many software components that Sun has substantially contributed to.

Third, you're a bit starry-eyed regarding IBM and unduly negative regarding Solaris. IBM has still not open sourced anything it makes money from, too afraid of the new models to risk core products like DB2 or CICS. Yes, it's dabblig with Geronimo and has made some great contributions to the Linux kernel and derived huge marketing karma from them, but essentially it is still conflicted. Meanwhile, in just a year OpenSolaris has gathered 14,000 followers, secured over 160 community code contributions and spawned 4 new Unix distributions and two platform ports. As things that are of "not much avail" that's not bad, in my view.

Now, I'd not question an assertion that said Sun had totally failed to make known and benefit from it's extensive and systemic open source involvement in recent years - that's why they appointed me Chief Open Source Officer - or one that suggested not all Sun's initiatives and involvements are equally successful - whose are.

But denying all the work we've done over the last 26 years, which everyone benefits from, is wrong. You've garnered broad publicity for your company with it, but to paint the substantial contribution we've made to F/OSS over 26 years solely with the colours chosen from your selective perspectives over Java and Linux is to say the least regrettable.

(I've commented before on a clone of this post elsewhere - only just tracked it back to its source so apologies for the delay commenting here)

Peter Yared said...


Since you want to go back in time on blog posts, why not recomment on your comments about why it's bad to open source Java now that Sun has changed its opinion. It's not like anything has changed since then other than the Sun party line.

To your point that writing open letters and blogging and such gets publicity, I agree that having a relevant opinion and posting it is great publicity. Jonathan Schwartz is way better at it that I am. :)

Open sourcing Solaris years after Linux was enormously succesful and eating away at Sun's market share is clearly a "me too" strategy. So is open sourcing SPARC after getting spanked by x86 and SunONE App Server after JBOSS was already a market leader. There is no question on this when you look at it on a timeline of when things were open sourced relative to marketshare numbers. So please address this these projects specifically rather than things like adding accessibility features to Gnome.

I don't remember exactly what you were doing in Europe at the time, but I was sitting in meetings at Sun corporate trying to get people to take Linux seriously back in 1999. Is Sun had open sourced Solaris x86 with a decent license back then, it would be where Linux is today.

On NetBeans, it was open sourced after a year of trying to sell it with no one buying it, so it's open sourcing I would characterize as "open source trashcan", just like OpenOffice. It was just an afterthought until after IBM launched Eclipse and then all of a sudden Sun was really interested in it again.

Otherwise, yes, thank you Sun very much for Tomcat, NFS, and helping out on Gnome and Mozilla! This is great stuff. At the time Tomcat came out there was no open source servlet container. Gnome and Mozilla were existing open source projects that Sun helped out on rather than competed with. Let's have more behavior like this!

webmink said...

Where have I ever said it would be a bad thing to have an open source Java platform, Peter? In 1999 I was at IBM and was hired into Sun in 2000 with instructions to do what it took to get Java open source. I would have liked it to happen a while back, but I have to respect the decisions of the people who actually bear the responsibility (rather than the ever-helpful peanut gallery of competitors and bystanders).

You're completely wrong on NetBeans and being abandonware. Both were open sourced immediately Sun acquired them. I was at OSCON in 2000 when was open sourced, and I went to the party in Prague when NetBeans was open sourced, so I remember both first-hand. On Mozilla, as I recall Sun was a peer player in the creation of Mozilla and provided some of the initial staffing, although that was before my time. GNOME was indeed started independently of Sun.

I do agree about how good it would have been for OpenSolaris to happen earlier than it did, you're right. And the deprecation of Solaris x86 was a big mistake. But we're in the process of fixing up the consequences, and I think it's going well.

As well as all the factual errors, what I am challenging is your black-and-whiteness and oversimplification. After all, if it's always wrong to start a new activity rather than "joining in" with an existing open source community, why did ActiveGrid not join in with GridEngine? Recognise that while it gets some things right and some things wrong, like everyone, Sun is an open source pioneer, from the heart outwards.

(I apologised for the late comment before but I do note that blogger gives one no idea of how long a conversation has been asleep)

Peter Yared said...

Simon, you are chastising me for saying that Sun has a reactive open source policy, but then you agree that Solaris should have been open sourced much earlier than it did. So I guess we are now in agreement that Sun should have open sourced Solaris years ago? I guess where we disagree is on the why, that Sun finally did open source Solaris in response to the popularity of Linux?

A couple of months ago, in response to my open letter asking Sun to open source Java, you supported the notion that it would be a waste of Sun's time to open source Java rather than work on the next version, I imagine you have since changed your opinion.

Look, I don't mean to pick on you here, I know it is difficult to have your own opinion and tow the company line, I had to do it myself when I worked for Sun. :)

To me it _is_ very black and white: were things open sourced in a reactive or proactive way? To wit:

Solaris - Reactive to Linux
Sun App Server - Reactive to JBOSS
SPARC - Reactive to x86
Java - Reactive to LAMP
Tomcat - Proactive
OpenOffice - Proactive
Gnome - Proactive
Mozilla - Proactive
NetBeans - Proactive initially, reactive now to Eclipse

So if you want to keep going back and forth tit for tat here, let's address the projects in this list one by one. You still haven't discussed the app server, for example.

PS: ActiveGrid has nothing to do with numerical computation on grids, so we did not join GridEngine. We did join Python Software Foundation, OSDL, and contributed a bunch of code to wxWidgets to Python soap libraries, as well have released the vast majority of our code under the Apache Software License 2.0.

vedic.Ai said...

reactive, proactive, re..,pro..
suns seems to be quite a ballanced bunch. :)

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