Open Source Panel at Enterprise 2.0

Stephen Powers of Forrester Research recently released a report identifying Alfresco and Drupal as the two open source content management platforms to which enterprises should pay the most attention. Specifically, the report claims that "enterprises interested in open source should keep an eye on two offerings – Alfresco Software and Drupal." (Also check out Matt Asay’s coverage of the report for CNet).
I couldn’t agree more – though I wish the report had come out a few weeks ago. It would have made for a good introduction to the panel on Open Source Platforms which I moderated at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. The panelists were:

  • Bob Bickel, of Ringside Networks, which is creating enterprise open source middleware for the social web, allowing companies to embed social networking in their own sites and do cross-network identity mapping
  • John Newton, co-founder and CTO of Alfresco, an enterprise class open source content management framework
  • Jeff Whatcott, Chief Communicator of Acquia, a company formed to provide commercial support, certification, and related services to enterprises around Drupal, the open source community publishing system

The audio from the panel is now available. You can listen using the player below or download the file directly (it’s a 43MB mp3)

Unfortunately, although many of the business case studies were leveraging open source software, and although many of innovations undergirding E2.0 came from open source communities, the conference as a whole had only a single panel specifically talking about the approach, as opposed to many presentations from proprietary software vendors.
Hopefully next year’s Enterprise 2.0 will offer more opportunities to talk about how open source platforms can be incredibly effective in an enterprise context: enabling agility and experimentation, support collaboration, and avoiding the "success tax" of per-seat licensing.

Open Source growing by 25% annually until 2012

According to some recent research from IDC direct revenues generated by Open Source companies are going to increase by almost 25% annually, from 1.7 million in 2007 to 4.8 million in 2012. This includes only revenues generated by Open Source software that is directly distributed by the companies behind the projects. Geht es nach dem Marktforschungsinstitut IDC, wird der erzielte Umsatz mit Open-Source-Software (OSS) bis ins Jahr 2012 jährlich um fast 25 Prozent auf 4,8 Milliarden US-Dollar anwachsen. Im vergangenen Jahr wurden mit OSS rund 1,7 Milliarden US-Dollar umgesetzt. In reality though this is only a small share of the revenues enabled through Open Source software.

CIO.COM survey says that Open Source is Entering the Enterprise Mainstream

I just stumbled over an article in CIO.COM written by Esther Schindler. Based on the statistics published, 53% of the participants are using Open Source applications in their organization today, an additional 10 percent are planning to do so in the next year. Nearly half (44%) stated that Open Source solution are considered equally with proprietary solutions during the acquisition process. Of course operating systems and web server are always popular but more interesting is that 45% are using desktop applications such as OpenOffice.org and 29% use Open Source Enterprise applications. In general Open Source technologies are gaining confidence. Reasons for picking Open Source are primarly of financial nature (56%), but flexibility is catching up with 32%, access to the source code is ramping up to 30%. Looking at the barriers product support concerns are raised by 45%, awareness/knowledge of available solutions comes up second with 29%. And this is where our Enterprise Open Source Directory comes into play. Good! Other barriers mentioned with lower priority are security concerns, lack of management support and licensing/legal questions, that clearly seen less of an issue compared with some years ago.So, we didn’t really need another survey to be convinced, but it’s a good sign that enterprises using Open Source are on the right track.

Magento 1.0 is a promising open source eCommerce contender

Magento, the new open source ecommerce platform, – is a promising new entrant that should be evaluated against OFBiz and osCommerce. The Magento project is lead by Verian Technologies, a consulting firm that worked with osCommerce and then decided they could do better by taking their experience and creating a new ecommerce platform.

As Adam Michelson writes in his blog post on the Optaros website, Magento is entering a crowded space of offerings that promise a better ecommerce Web storefront. Magento is betting that even though the ecommerce storefront is a relatively mature space, that it is still an underserved market. They may be correct as there does seem to be a good amount of interest for their production release. The biggest differentiator for Magento from most of its storefront competition is that it is an open source solution offered under the Open Software License (OSL 3.0). There are only a few other well known open source web storefronts, OFBiz and osCommerce being the most well known. OFBiz is more of a framework, and offers capabilities beyond the ecommerce storefront. osCommerce is more focused on ecommerce functionality. Magento’s heritage is osCommerce, so it has an ecommerce storefront and merchandizing focus as well.

Magento is in large part a fresh-start to osCommerce. Magento is composed of a team that knows ecommerce very well, and they have created a solid set of ecommerce capability. Magento’s goal is to be less complex than osCommerce, as osCommerce has grown into a somewhat complex collection of offerings. Of course Magento is much more immature at this point, with far fewer adjunct projects than osCommerce. Magento also offers professional support for customers and a partnership program for integrators. Magento will feel more like a company that has an open source offering as opposed to osCommerce which is more of a pure-play open source community. Magento is also likely to keep the code base under their control, while contributors to the osCommerce platform are from a several corporations including PayPal and Amazon.

Magento offers similar technology as osCommerce as they are both written in PHP. But architecturally Magento is more of a collection of services than osCommerce. In this way, even though Magento is written in PHP and OFBiz is Java, Magento is architecturally more like OFBiz than osCommerce. Magento and OFBiz share a similar architectural approach of being constructed from a collection of underlying services. This allows to leverage the individual services and assemble them to the specific solution you need. In comparison, osCommerce is more of a package-type implementation, and OFBiz allows a bit more assemble. Magento can be deployed as a package for sure, but the core architecture also allows for assembly as well as they have an underlying services model.

Is the Enterprise Ready Open Source Java CRM technology a killer app?

Open Source has been here for quite some time and large and smaller enterprises have learned to deal with it. With developing commercial open source business models and a shake out of who the winners in each category are, software evaluation and acquisition has become easier and less risky. Are you looking for a database? Then typically your choice will be MySQL. An application server? Sure, JBoss should be a safe bet. Business intelligence? Pentaho or Jasper will be the answer. For document management you probably are going to select Alfresco. And the list goes on. Only in a few domains there are many or no clear leaders. The exception is certainly Content Management where some 2’000 plus technologies fight for users, but even there the short list can easily be reduced to 5-8 players and if programming language is a criteria you probably don’t need to look at more than 3. Is Customer Relationship Management different in this aspect? Well, at first sight SugarCRM seems to be the clear leader and it certainly has more downloads and paying customers than most other CRM tools out there. But it caters more for small and midrange customers or for departmental applications than for the large enterprise. And the fact that it is PHP based limits its use in many strongly Java focused IT departments.There is clearly room for a Java based componentized CRM platform that can be integrated with existing CRM applications as easy as used stand alone. It needs to support open standards and allow for low effort configuration and customizations while still remaining upgradeable. And it needs to be able to compete with the Siebels and SAPs of this world, not in terms of functional richness as nobody can consume all what Siebel is offering, but in terms of being extendable and customizable. While there are Java based CRM technologies out there such as Adempiere, Compiere or OpenCRX none of them is really state-of-the-art in many aspects, be it concerning the integration of the online channel, the features for campaign management and marketing analytics/automation or the quality and adaptability of their frontends. They are not customizable to the extent Enterprises need it. And they have in common that they are not componentized, you either use the whole thing or you take another. And finally the lack the ease of use and low effort install approach that is needed to be effective as an open source vendor. So, who will take this challenge and is there a business case for the “Alfresco” of CRM? I strongly believe so and I can guarantee that VCs do so too if the right team comes with the right plan and ideally at least half of the technology already built. And what has been said is at as well true for the even larger ERP domain.But remember, commercial open source is at least as much about online marketing and highly efficient and effective sales processes than about software.

Will OpenOffice 3.0 enable Enterprises to go away from MS Office?

With all the bad press around MS Windows Vista and the frustrations of many users with the user interface of MS Office 2007 OpenOffice.org 3.0 looks to many like the white knight in the office productivity battle. OpenOffice 3.0 (currently in Beta) comes with a number of new features that make it an even better competitor to MS Office than the versions before. It opens MS Offic 2007 files (e.g. ldocx, .pptx) and it offers enhanced compatibility between the different operation system platforms (e.g. Mac OS, Windows, Linux). So the key goal is to allow more people to collaborate, regardless of their platform and their office suite they are using. Interesting for many could also be the new collaboration features when working on the same spreadsheet files with other people or the Solver functionality that MS Office users may know and Microsoft apparently doesn’t offer for MS Office 2008 for Mac OS any more. Many other changes have been incorporated into OO 3.0, from better PDF support to enhanced charting and better compatibility with MS Office. So it could well be that with these recent changes OO 3.0 will receive an even higher rating on EOS Directory than before. And it’s clearly time for enterprises looking for alternatives to investigate again.

State of Drupal

At the recent DrupalCon 2008 in Boston, Dries gave usual "State of Drupal" keynote: After a quick mention of the work the community did on Drupal 6, Dries focused mostly on what is coming in Drupal 7 and what he sees as the important work to be done. This included showing video from the recent University of Minnesota Libraries usability testing. It’s great to see the lead on a significant open source project highlighting the importance of usability, especially as the community grows. Additionally, Dries highlighted test coverage, and made the argument that the "code freeze" portion of the development cycle for Drupal 7 could be much shorter if broader test coverage were provided. Having a good automated test framework contributes greatly to the ease of development and debugging for new module authors, existing module maintainers, and the implementers of sites based on Drupal. Finally, Dries also described longer term planning about the use of Drupal in places where HTML is not the assumed or even primary output: social networking frameworks and the semantic web. This resonates with much of the discussion in other open source communities (DiSo, for example) and reinforces the critical role open source plays in innovation on the web.

Microsoft APIs – Not Open Source, But More Open

Was it pressure from the EU, a ploy to encourage ISO adoption of MS-friendly document formats or maybe, just maybe, the “disruption” created by enterprise adoption of open source? Whatever the reasons, Microsoft today announced it is:

“implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.”

The products include:

“Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products.”

As Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie put it in the press release: “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”According to Matt Aslett of The 451 Group, what it really means is this:

“It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.”

Of course, it could also be just a “Good Steve Day,” according to ZDNet’s Open Source blog:

“Is this an honest change of policy, or is this just a bow to political pressure, pressure which lobbying and campaign contributions might some day remove?”

Speaking for myself, I tend to agree with Jay Lyman at The 451 Group, who calls this “Open source disruption realized“:

“This is just another case of companies coming around to market realities. Look at it like the Internet. Did the Internet suffer when Microsoft finally came around and began supporting and focusing on really working with it? Hardly. The companies that have already focused on the enterprise potential and opportunities for open source software retain their lead. They may have to work harder to maintain it, but that is a good thing, both for users and for open source.”

Is a more open Microsoft a good thing? Is it an open door to better interoperability or an open jaw to swallow open source competitors? Post your comments below?

Google’s Enterprise Open Source Blog

Maybe you should pay attention to the man behind that curtain — the curtain with all those “Gs” and “Os” on it.If you think obscure techie blogs might be the canary in the coal mine for spotting the biggest, neatest and next-est idea to reshape the world, you might want to keep an eye on “Open Source at Google.“Launched with typical Google low-key non-fanfare a week or so ago, recent posts include:

  • Project Hosting Just Keeps on Growing Look out SourceForge. Google reports hosting over 80K open source projects in just 18 months.
  • Google Sponsors Freedom Training Task Force This post thanks Google for contributing to the Free Software Foundation in support of their efforts to explain how free software licensing works. Talk about doing no evil!
  • Announcing the Grand Prize Winners for the Google Highly Open Participation Contest Learn who won Google’s “experiment” (contest?) to see how many secondary school students would contribute to open source development projects. More than 350 participated on ten different projects. Check out the graphs in the post.

While I don’t expect a Google blogger to inadvertently reveal Google’s secret search sauce, this blog bears watching, if only because they keep trying new things over at the Googleplex. Why? Because they can.

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