Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Open Source" a differentiator no more

There is an interesting discussion around a recent blog post by Matt Aslett of the 451 group. (they do churn out great articles, don't they?).

Matt notes that "Open Source" as a differentiator is being dropped by more and more commercial open source projects, and backs it up with some anecdotal evidence. This of course caught my interest, as I have been discussing this topic internally at least for the last two years… and we made the decision to change the communication, and currently work on defining a new tagline (away from "Simple Open Source Content Management").

So yes, the trend is clearly there. Open Source is neither a primary value proposition nor a primary differentiator (anymore, if it ever was). Simply put, just because software is open source doesn't mean it works for you.

You would not differentiate your product as "the closed source alternative to X", would you? So why the other way round?

As a product and business models mature, realities change. When Magnolia CMS started with an "Enterprise Open Source" business model in 2006, this model was in its absolute infancy. It worked for Red Hat, but that was about it. We regularly had to educate prospects about the viability of our business model, not always successfully so. (For those interested, Magnolia CMS has been growing 50% per year since 2006).

Today "vendor-driver Open Source" or "Commercial Open Source" or "Enterprise Open Source" have become mainstream. It has become clear that the oversight, direction and long-term view of a vendor has benefits for an Open-Source project, and for these benefits to materialize, a revenue stream that finances the product is essential. This in turn has lead to companies looking at Open Source no longer as "Free (of cost) Software" but as "Software with a lower TCO and higher flexibility".

Once you realize this change in customer perception, dropping open source as a differentiator or value proposition is only the logical next step.

For Magnolia CMS, this will mean we'll focus more on communicating primary business values to our customers.

Having a strong community to share your knowledge, ideas and gripes, as well as ask for or provide help will make a great difference in how enjoyable your daily work with a product like Magnolia CMS is. And sharing or learning from extensions that others provide certainly is a big part of an Open Source community.

Being able to understand and quickly adapt the code of a product that needs to be integrated and adapted to custom needs as much as a Content Management System does, is incredibly beneficial for any company.

But the fact that Magnolia's source code is open should be the deciding factor only once all other things are equal. In our daily interactions with customers we learned that for them, Magnolia is foremost a great product (and great company), and only then Open Source.