Friday, February 12, 2010

I've got a feeling : is Open Source at an inflexion point ?

Personal experience

Revolution Linux experimented more than 35% growth during the last year and things seems to follow the same trend this year. For us, it has been a great experience (not exempt for some growing pains !;-) and, when I look around, at open source companies, I can definitely see a trend.

Local Market (Quebec)

In our local market (Quebec province in Canada), we have more mature companies and they tend to have more people this year than the precedent (growth) and most of them seems to have find/defined a niche of some sort. Large companies are less and less generalist and have one or several specialties/focal points. We also experimented in Quebec some mergers between existing companies and this is clearly the sign of a more mature market.

Open Source at the International Level

At the international level, a continuous flow of Linux migration and open source adoption by companies,  as well as a bunch of acquisition/mergers occurs as well with, once again, a more focused approach for the existing players. Some leaders start to emerge with a sound financial model and extraordinary growth and profit.

Open source = competitive solutions

More and more, open source software is used/bought, not because it is open source/free (speech/beer) but because it is a good software (intrinsic value). The fact that this software/solution is open source is not the determining factor that make customers buy it. On a head to head competition with closed source alternative, a bunch of open source players emerges (Firefox, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Tomcat, etc.) and are in a position to become market-leaders.

In practice, a few years ago, when we started Revolution Linux, we mentioned "we are doing open source, this is great". These days, we say "we have an excellent solution for you. By the way, this solution is open source and this brings you several additional advantages ...". But clearly, the customers we are reaching now are not basing their choices on the fact that this is an open source software. They select the best technology for any given task and, more often than ever, Open Source simply compete ... and win.

"It's the fast that eat the slow"

A few years ago (10), Open Source companies where almost non existing and of very limited size. Open source software where ten time less numerous and had ten time less functions/capacity/line of code than today. If  "it’s not the big that eat the small…it’s the FAST that eat the slow" (see book of the same name by Jason Jennings & Laurence Haughton) is true, it means that open source development has proven that it is faster/more innovative than closed source development. And this will continue. But ... how fast ?

Inflexion point ?

My opinion is that open source is at an inflexion point : if the trend continue (i.e. : no major change from the competition, no major change in the environment, legal, financial, social domain), then the areas where open source is dominant because of its intrinsic value (i.e.: technical advantages, best solution, best product, etc.) will experiment a tremendous growth (exponential like).

Other open source solutions with smaller user base will either join the fast growing club ... or fade. Indeed, because several open source business model have a proven value, we see more and more companies joining the club and mimicking what is perceived as the root cause of the open source leader success. Some of them being coined with the not so sexy "fauxpen" term. Open or fauxpen companies fueled and increasing competition on existing solutions (including closed source one).

Open Source companies will follow the same trend : fast growing of fast waning.  In the last case, acquisition/mergers will keep the talent into open source and help fuel the fast growing company.


  1. Well, I really hope so and I'm moderately optimistic.

    The best thing however is to see that it is beginning to filter through that people who use software as a tool (end-users) look for the "best" software for a given job, regardless of whether that's an Open Source offering or not.

    That's because the "open" part of Open Source doesn't really matter to people who can afford to spend money to buy closed-source software. Such people simply buy a tool that works, and will cheerfully buy a new one when the first becomes obsolete. Of course they benefit from the "open" part of the equation, but the importance of having a good tool completely overshadows that aspect. And the lock-in.

    Unfortunately however, it often also makes for inferior interface design because the coders who write Open Source software tend to be poor at designing interfaces that people actually like, and often don't take the time and effort needed to debug such interfaces (just think of all those K-widgets in KDE 4.0, 4.1, 4.2 that simply wouldn't work).

    But but that's getting a lot better of late, thanks to more bug-fixing, more polished and professional widget libraries (like Qt) and to standards for "what makes a good interface" gradually filtering into the consciousness of Open Source coders.

    When Open Source Software can win on merit (i.e. not just for being "open") that's when the inflexion point is well and truly reached.

    Because, as the author puts it: "These days, we say "we have an excellent solution for you. By the way, this solution is open source and this brings you several additional advantages ..."..

    I'm sad to say that there are still many people about who will start to rant and foam at the mouth at the mere assertion that "open" is a mere factor that determines the attractiveness of a software solution next to "tool quality" and "usability".

    The best part of Open Source however is that it tends to get better instead of worse.

  2. Sorry, but your web site looks weird with the advertising on the left.

  3. I have to agree with previous post - Ads on the left distract - I am european and no better or worse than someone who's culture leads them to read from right to left - I read english (left to right)
    Every time I start a new line I expect a) continuation of a previous thought or b) a new thought
    Here I get (between ideas and inside ideas) adverts - despite that I agree with the ideas about open source, I will no longer be visiting this blog

  4. You really need to do something about the ads on the left of screen. Makes the site hard ot read and take seriously.

  5. Hello Anonymous (the three of you) and thanks for your comment.

    I can't see any ads from two different browsers while being logged on blogspot and anonymous (Firefox and Chrome). Can you be more specific about the ads : images or text and where do you see them ?


  6. f, I completely agree with your comment. What I observe in different areas (thin-client(LTSP-Cluster), CMS(Drupal), groupware (Zimbra), EMS (Nuxeo), portal (uPortal), remote access (NX), etc.) is that some Open Source products are simply superior to their proprietary equivalent : functionally but also, more often than not, from an interface point of view.

    This is not the case for lots of Open Source products that are technically superior but can not compete with closed source equivalent that offer less functions (and often, more "hackish" because of legacy code) but a much better interface or are tailored made to address the needs of a few customers. I think this is OK for server-based product ... but not for desktop/end-user products.

    Indeed, interfaces/UI are often the weak link of the Open Source software experience. For those projects, usability is key to their long term success ... not technical excellence.

  7. Hello. I have changed the template for the blog with a more readable CSS and fix sized column.

    Hope it is more readable this way !

  8. Agreed. I am in the US (the land of that other OS) and luckily have a free choice with two computers on the desk. I spend 95% of my time on the "older" castoff hardware that run CentOS with some really GOOD numerical programming and generic office tools (OO v2.4, Gnumeric) and have shoved the newer hardware WinXP with MSOffice2007) to the side. There is no cost incentive to me, but while the UI of the FOSS OS and apps are much rougher, the core code quality is light years ahead. Funny too becuase the Win machine takes 5-10 minutes to reach a usable desktop from a cold start; the CentOS machine, about 60 seconds....

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