Are There Open Choices for Open Source Support?

Alex Fletcher’s post “Meeting the needs of the unpaid on the road to gaining customers” raises a very interesting point for enterprise users of open source applications: What is the right level of support for the OSS needed in my organization?Fletcher mentions this article on choosing commercial support to make the point that too often, support for open source is seen as an either/or option: free, as in do-it-yourself; or commercial, as in subscribe to our program and pay moderate to serious fees.But he thinks there’s lots of room in the middle for support organizations to help the “unpaid” — or low-paying — enterprise user. This is both a customer-development strategy and a new business opportunity. Citing “building internal competencies” as a key reason many organizations choose an enterprise open source solution in the first place, Fletcher suggests:

Oddly enough, the intersection between employing open source and building self-sufficient competency is where support providers should examine how they can evolve into a more relevant entity. Perhaps instead of attempting to become the sole source for upgrades, vulnerability assessment and/or migration, support providers should seek to offer a wider array of flexible support (and licensing) options for those who choose to go it alone?

How about it? Would a pay-as-you-go approach to open source support appeal to your organization? Has your firm already purchased a support contract? Or does paying for open source support run against the whole rationale for using open source? Post your responses and comments below.

LoopFuse OneView 3.0 Launch

This sales and marketing automation tool launched updated on-demand hosted and download-and-run open source versions this week. While ComputerWorld says the company came out of “stealth” mode this week (so how did they get to version 3?), it’s been operating since Q2 2007 and is currently in the EOS Directory candidate queue. The tool, which combines web metrics, lead generation and management capabilities for enterprise users, is targeting open source firms as early adopters. More info:

Open Source and IT Management

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a great story on HP’s efforts to shrink the size and cost of their IT infrastucture. “Taming Technology Sprawl” (subscription required) details some of the issues the tech giant faced trying to slim down a tech infrastructure swollen by multiple acquisitions and overlapping IT staffs.

“Since July 2005, the Palo Alto, Calif., firm has been in a project to cut the number of computer programs it uses by more than half, and reduce the number of its data centers — where large computers run programs that support H-P’s businesses — to six from 85.”

The cost is significant. “H-P spent $4.2 billion — about 5% of 2005 revenue — to maintain its IT systems” and aims to drop that to 2% of revenue and shed half of the 19,000 person staff.A key problem? Too many software programs.

“Abour eight months after launching the overhaul in mid-2005, H-P’s new Chief Information Officer Randy Mott unexpectedly hit a hurdle. According to a February 2006 survey, H-P employees depended on about 6,000 computer programs — nearly double what Mr. Mott had expected. By then, he was months into the project and had allocated money and staff based on earlier assumptions. “I was blindsided,” says Mr. Mott, who formerly worked at Dell Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.”

The story goes on to describe other issues, including how CIO Mott had to battle VPs who were loath to give up their departmental computing resources. But I kept thinking about how difficult it is to really keep track of what software programs are in use within an organization, and how many of those might be open-source or otherwise untraceable through conventional license tracking. Then I spotted a mention of Matt Asay’s blog item on the story behind HP’s FOSSology open-source tools. Asay quotes HP’s Christine Marino, VP of Linux and open source, on the creation of an open source tool for open source governance.

Free and open-source software is everywhere. It’s not just Linux (not that Linux is just one thing, anyway). At HP we’ve been using free and open-source software throughout our company for years as a consumer and contributor of free and open-source software.Many years ago we realized that we needed some processes around our adoption of open source. We were very clear that we wanted to take advantage of FOSS (free and open-source software) but also that we needed to manage our use of it. Our processes have grown and evolved over the years, and we’ve written software to assist with these processes.About 18 months ago during our open-source customer councils we talked about the tools that we had built internally and there was almost a rush to the doors, with our customers clamoring for these kinds of tools to help them manage their open-source adoption. So, really, it was our customers asking for our assistance in managing their open-source software that was the impetus for our open-sourcing our framework today.

Martino goes on to say that HP considered creating a proprietary product but chose to stay with open source tools because “there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to FOSS governance.” She does not mention CIO Mott, but I can well believe FOSS tracking tools got a big boost internally when the IT cost reduction project arrived.All of this makes me wonder if there are open source tools for managing both FOSS and proprietary software governance? Does open source have a role to play in IT mangement of both types? Post your comments on this issue below.

Enterprise Open Source News Roundup – 28 Jan 08

Highlights from late last week include:

My pick for the enterprise open source item of last week takes a little setup. On Thursday, Microsoft beat forecasts for fiscal 2008 Q@ results, reporting $16.37B in revenues against analyst consensus estimates of $15.95B — beating the estimate by $420M, or 2.6%.Let’s consider what that $420M estimate error mean in the open source world. For example, here are recent quarterly revenues from open source activities at three publicly-traded companies:Red Hat (RHT) $135M 11/30/07Novell (NOVL) $22M 10/31/07 Per CNet IBM (IBM) $135M 12/31/07 Estimated from InfoWorld’sHas Open Source Sold Out?”That’s $392M of open source revenue from three major software vendors– still less that the analyst’s margin of error for Microsoft’s revenues in the same period. It’s a comparison that would give any financially-oriented software exec something to think about.We all know MSFT is huge — really huge. And open source revenues are still small — really small. That might seem intimidating to some, but to me, it means enterprise open source has a lot of room to grow without taking on Microsoft directly. That’s probably good news for everyone.

Business and Open Source meet in Germany (report from Heise Congress)

This week the already well known Heise Open Source meets Business Congress takes place in Nurnberg, Germany. Richard Seibt and his team once again put together an interesting and relevant group of speakers to discuss the importance and impact of Open Source in business. – And of course the poster children of open source – SugarCRM, Alfresco, eZpublish, Liferay, MySQL, RedHat/Jboss, as well as many less well known projects were there and presented their latest news and insights. Here’s a sample: Microsoft apparently “produces” 300 to 400 patents per workday currently and it takes approximately 4 million USD to fight one at court. Maybe we all should become lawyers. SugarCRM is now four years old, has already been downloaded 4 million plus times and successfully competes with the premier league of proprietary commercial CRM offerings. The Heise Open Source congress seems to be progressing nicely while many others open source events are struggling, maybe it’s the business and enterprise orientation that makes the difference. – With more than 650 delegates growth against the year before was almost 10%. Enterprise Open Source was in the center of the delegates’ interest and a large number of credible customer case studies showed again how well it works and how beneficial it is for the companies.

Does “Open” in Open Source Mean Interoperability?

I’ve been thinking about Monday’s post on IBM’s “Open Collaboration Client Solution” and what it means to enterprise customers. And while I think it’s darn hard to figure out what IBM is actually offering from that release, it occurred to me that I may have been looking at the word “open” in the wrong way.”Open,” to an enterprise customer, has more to do with interoperability between existing and anticipated applications than with open source specifically. This “light dawns over Marblehead” realization came from seeing a reference to the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) customer forum results. This survey of CIOs and business execs from over 100 firms confirms that interoperability between open source applications and also between open source and proprietary solutions is an overriding concern for firms considering open source implementations. To quote from the OSA announcement:

“These findings represent a clear opportunity for the OSA to out-MicrosoftMicrosoft by offering a fully interoperable suite of business tools,” said DominicSartorio, OSA president. “If we can help our members’ solutions work welltogether it makes it easier for our channel partners to sell open-source softwareand it will translate into more revenue for vendors and even more options forcustomers.”Interoperability is a challenge among both large and small organizations. Keyissues with small organizations include single sign-on and authorization, dataintegration and synchronization, UI and portal integration, and contentmanagement integration. In addition to these, larger enterprises also raisedbusiness process integration, production management, and legacy/proprietaryintegration as key issues.

OSA executive director Dominic Sartorio, in an interview with IT Business Edge, described the IT customer’s concern with interoperability this way:

“It made the difference between them buying a solution or not. If you have to do a lot of interoperability work on your own or hire contractors to do it, that adds to the cost of ownership profile of the product. … So this is real. There’s a lot of unmet opportunity out there because we haven’t collectively done a good enough job.

Sartorio also described how customers said “the bigger proprietary vendors like Microsoft or Oracle” were better able to handle the interoperability challenge, but at a higher cost, vendor lock-in and reduced innovation. So maybe IBM – and other firms like Optaros– really do have an “open” opportunity here to straddle the gap between giant proprietary software companies and the much smaller open source application vendors. This helps explain Sun’s big bet with the MySQL acquisition and other recent deals. We’ll have to see just how open these big companies can be given their legacy of closed business practices and fierce competition from both sides of the issue.

IBM Wants Your Desktop Back — But Will It Really Be Open?

If a press release can be believed, IBM is chasing the business desktop productivity market again. Not with hardware, but with something called the “Open Collaboration Client Solution.” Kicking off IBM’s Lotusphere conference in Orlando this week, the announcement suggests the lords of big iron have their eyes on your PC again, only in a nicer, more open way. The release begins:

“IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it will offer an integrated Open Collaboration Client Solution with support for Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system from Canonical Ltd. that is especially popular for desktops, laptops and thin clients.Showing strong momentum around its IBM Lotus Notes 8 and IBM Lotus Symphony-based Open Collaboration Client Solution, IBM also announced a new agreement working with Red Hat targeting small and medium-sized enterprises, and momentum in the Open Collaboration Client Solution powered by SUSE Linux Enterprise from Novell that was announced in August 2007.”

Later in the release comes this zinger:

“IBM’s Open Collaboration Client Solution is … personal computing software that is based on open standards, providing businesses with a cost-effective and security-rich alternative to Microsoft desktops.”

Ouch! Those of us who remember those simple green character-mode command-line days (and the great keyboards that came with them — where are they now?) might be excused for uttering a snicker or two at the thought of IBM attacking Microsoft for being closed and proprietary. But times change, and as noted in Friday’s post, IBM has adopted open source underpinnings for many of its key products. Two additional thoughts:

  • Just how open is the “Open Collaboration Client Solution?” The release only mentions open source once, referring to the “open source Eclipse Rich Client Platform” on which Lotus Expeditor is based, Expeditor being the application framework for this solution, as near as I can tell from the release. “Open standards” is used three times, without referring to any specific standard, tool or application. Not counting these four uses, the word “open” appears 22 more times in the release. The Open Collaboration Client Solution components list begins with IBM Lotus Notes. The last time I checked Notes was not an especially open or even standards-based application. The point here is that simply throwing the word “open” at prospective customers does not an open solution make. It would be a shame if the old IBM tradition of marketing FUD suddenly took on a new “open” look.
  • The other comment is that in Friday’s post, I gave credit to IBM for knowing how to market open source. And they do — just not in this press release, which was a model of marketing obfustication. I guess I’ll have to wait to download the whole OCCS to see what it really can do. And that will probably happen when IBM decides to bring back those great keyboards in the name of open standards. Don’t hold your breath.

Marketing Open Source: What, We Market?

It’s what one might call a bit of headline serendipity. On the list of this week’s open source-related headlines, such as:

We also got this item:

Well, it would appear that Sun, Red Hat and IBM have figured that out, right? To be fair, the MD item is focused on marketing open source applications to consumers as part of a low-cost PC purchase — in other words, as an alternative to Windows. But I think it’s interesting to consider how enterprise open source solution vendors have dealt with this issue.Clearly, the IBMs, Red Hats, Suns, Alfrescos, SugarCRMs, EnterpriseDBs and a great many more firms involved in open source have spent heavily to promote their offerings to a business audience. One part of their message — like that of open source for consumers — is that open source has a lower cost of ownership: not free, but less. But the other part of the enterprise vendor message is that open source works better and can meet customer needs faster and more completely. Getting that speed and customization requires that a customer spend something to achieve those results — just less than might be spent with a closed, proprietary solution.It’s not easy to get consumers to adopt open source — just ask Linus Torvalds. Seems to me developers of consumer open source applications are not helping their users to spread the word. The marketing challenge for consumer open source is not putting “Linux vs. Windows” tent cards on shelves in Staples or Sears, but drawing attention to open source usage. Would it be too tacky to have an embedded “Emailed by open source Linux” in the footers of emails sent by the applications installed in all those Wal-Mart PCs?What do you think? Is traditional marketing important to open source success? Can open source be marketed to consumers or only to business users? Post your comments below.

Open Source MS-Project Killer? Projity OpenProj 1.0

More than one person has moaned aloud at the thought of having to review — or worse yet, update — a Microsoft Project file. Sure, there are online and downloadable Project file viewers, and plenty of competitors in the project management application space. But most of them cost money, have limited features or are otherwise wonky in some way.Until now. Welcome Projity’s OpenProj 1.0, a full-featured cross-platform open source project management application that reads/writes MS-Project .mpp, Project 2003 .XML and Projity’s own .pod files. This is no trial version or crippleware, it’s the real thing, and it comes in Linux, Unix, Mac (PPC/X86) and, yes, Windows versions. As others point out, this could be a welcome addition to the OpenOffice suite of enterprise open source productivity applications.I have just started tinkering with OpenProj — the 1.0 version launched recently — and so far, I’m impressed. According to the OpenProj site, so are the top guns at places like Sourceforge, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Sabayon Linux and Novell.Right now it’s an EOS Directory candidate, but we’re looking to rate it and add it to the directory. If you’ve got comments about OpenProj, add them below. I’ll keep checking to see if SteveB from Redmond posts a thumbs-down comment. Then we’ll know for sure it’s the real thing!

OpenProj 1.0 displays sample .mpp file

Enterprise Open Source News Roundup – 16 Jan 08

Here are some of the open source-related headlines this week — so far: