December 2008


Roberto has an interesting post about the revenue opportunity for vendors that will aid customer migrations from MS Office to OpenOffice.org.

While vendors such as Sun, IBM, HP, Accenture, EDS, etc. may seize this opportunity, they’ll likely only be able to do so with large (Fortune 2000) customers.  To be fair, this is a large enough market to get excited about.  However, I suspect that Microsoft offers fairly competitive pricing to customers in this market segment.  So, the migration business case will likely come down to more than a license cost discussion.

Customers outside of the Fortune 2000 are going to be more of a challenge.  First, the large IT vendors don’t have great routes to these customers.  It’s not for a lack of effort on the part of Sun, IBM, HP, Accenture, etc.  Rather, this customer segment is more used to addressing their IT needs through a handful of trusted IT advisors.  As it turns out, many (clearly not all) of these trusted IT advisors are Regional ISVs, Regional System Integrators or consultants that are Microsoft Business Partners.

As Leif Lodahl comments on Roberto’s blog:

“I would rather point my fingers of those Microsoft Business Partners, that provide customers with no choice (as to select Microsoft Office).

First step will be the customers to ask their business software providers if they can deliver a solution without vendor lock-in.”

While Leif acutely pinpoints the problem, I’m not sure that the solution is as simple as it’s made out to be.  First off, the customer has had a long relationship with the trusted RISV/RSI/Consultant.  So, when the trusted IT advisor suggests a solution that includes Microsoft technologies, few customers are going to challenge that premise.  Second, what impetus does the Microsoft Business Partner have for endorsing a solution without Microsoft technologies including MS Office?  Remember, that these partners have often made significant investments to become experts in Microsoft technologies.  In fact, most of their pre-canned application assets rely on Microsoft technologies.  Also, the integration that Microsoft offers with .NET & MS Office makes it really easy for MS Business Partners to build solutions that rely on MS Office.  Switching out MS Office for OpenOffice.org in these situations is likely not an impossible challenge.  But is it a challenge that a MS Business Partner wants to take up?

A new set of business partners, aligned with OpenOffice.org, could address the small & medium business market without having to make the tradeoff decisions that a current MS Business Partner would.  However, these vendors will face the challenge of breaking into the “trusted IT advisor” ranks.  It won’t be impossible, but it’ll be an uphill battle.  However, over the long run, I would suspect a larger opportunity for OpenOffice.org migrations in this customer segment than the Fortune 2000.

What do you think?

Around the time that the GPLv3 was being finalized I decided to read up on the Affero General Public License.  Most of you are probably familiar with the AGPL (so skip to the next paragraph), but for those that aren’t here’s a crash course.  The GPL requires derivative works based on GPL’d code to be released publicly.  However, this requirement only applies if the person/company that developed the derivative work decides to redistribute the code (in binary format).  Clearly this doesn’t apply to companies like Google or Facebook that use and create derivative works from GPL code, but doesn’t redistribute the code.  The AGPL was designed to close this loophole.   The AGPL requires derivative works to be released into the community, even if the code is only being accessed over a network, and not being redistributed.

At the time, I had my reservations about AGPL licensing.  I wondered if, for instance, Google would have used as much open source as they currently do if much of the code was AGPL’d.  Would Google really want to release code modifications that aided Google’s differentiation vs. the competition?  Could Google really separate out the GPL/AGPL code from the proprietary Google code/applications?

Why would a company like Google want to contribute their derivative works back?  One reason could be self interest.  A great example of this is the news from Facebook that they have made some interesting modifications to memcached, which lets Facebook run 200,000 UDP request/second vs. 50,000 before the Facebook modifications to memcached.

Facebook has decided to release their modifications and is hoping that they’ll be picked up by the official memcached distribution.  Why do this?  Clearly there is no license-based reason to do so since memcached is BSD licensed. Well, aside from being all around good guys/gals, contributing this code back to memcached ensures that Facebook can use the official version they get from memcached in the future.  Facebook doesn’t have to keep its own branch of memcached internally and try to apply service and feature updates to its own version as newer versions of the official memcached distribution become available.

Do the modifications that Facebook made to memcached aid Facebook’s differentiation vs. competitors? If so, why release the code and allow competitors to access the same technology benefit?

To the first question, I’d say the modifications appear to be differentiators.  The modifications allow Facebook to serve more customers with lower latency at a lower TCO (due to fewer servers required).  To the second question, it seems Facebook values using off the shelf open source in its infrastructure.  Like many companies that use open source, Facebook would rather that someone else (i.e. the memcached community) take care of that code while Facebook developers work on code/applications that are much closer to the Facebook end user.

What do you think?

I was a little surprised when I stumbled on this page about “Open Source .NET eXchange”.  It’s a mini-conference in London, UK, for .NET developers who are, or thinking about, using open source.  Topics include:

  • JQuery
  • NHibernate
  • ActiveMQ
  • Spring for NET

I asked Microsoft’s Robert Duffner if his open source team knew about this mini conference.  I was wondering if this a Microsoft driven initiative or is it the .NET community scratching an itch?  Robert tells me that while his team is aware of the mini conference, this is more about the .NET community scratching an itch.  I find this to be very cool.  It’s also an endorsement of Microsoft’s strategy to date, which I would summarize as: “.NET developers want to use .NET with open source, let’s make it easier for them to do so”.

While open source proponents and Microsoft itself have thrown tomatoes at each other in the past, it’s important for both sides to realize that users can, and do, straddle both camps.  This mini-conference is but one small example.

On the heels of Rob Bearden’s move to SpringSource, it seems that another JBoss executive alum, Shaun Connolly, is following suit.

Anyone who’s observed the interactions with JBoss & SpringSource over the past 2+ years may, like me, begin to wonder if the “friction” between the two companies is going to end.  Like me, avid readers of TSS (where the throw downs typically culminate), likely hope not.  The public debates are fun to read ;-)

In all seriousness, Shaun is a great guy and I wish him the best at SpringSource.  Rod and team, great choice!

Myst was one of my favorite first excuses for procrastinating during university.  It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve played or followed Myst news.

The original creators of Myst, incorporated under Cyan Worlds company, have been facing financial difficulty.  The company writes:

“As you may be aware, Cyan’s situation has not improved on the “resources” front.

So, Cyan has decided to give make MystOnline available to the fans by releasing the source code for the servers, client and tools for MystOnline as an open source project. We will also host a data server with the data for MystOnline.”

Cyan explains their understandable angst about this decision:

“This is a bit scary for Cyan because this is an area that we have never gone before, to let a product freely roam in the wild. But we’ve poured so much into UruLive, and it has touched so many, that we could not just let it whither and die. We still have hopes that someday we will be able to provide new content for UruLive and/or work on the next UruLive.”

But Cyan, trusting in their loyal fans, hopes for the best:

“We also are pretty sure that releasing MystOnline will result in some pleasant surprises for us. Our fans have always been so innovative, creative, and resourceful!”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.  I’m not sure how large of a fan base Myst has at this point.  Will it be large enough to mobilize and save Myst Online?

We all know that open source isn’t a panacea.  Typically, open source projects that grow out of proprietary projects are most successful when the product (whose IP forms the project) was in a pretty strong market position to begin with.

What do you think?

I read Luis Villa’s post about why he’s not a big fan of OOo, but is a fan of Office 2007, with great interest.  In a nutshell, Microsoft’s Ribbon UI widgets are a key reason that Luis is an Office 2007 fan.  He writes:

“Three full years ago Microsoft shipped a beta build of Office that announced “the office suite’s menus have become so cluttered and badly structured that users find it impossible to locate certain functions.” Their solution, the Ribbon, does a really good job of grouping important functionality together in a discoverable manner, and made it very easy for me to go from zero (prior to this year, I had not really used Office since 1998, and was far from a power user at that time) to relative power user (which I’ve had to be for various school tasks this year) in a matter of weeks.”

Like Luis, I haven’t been able to get into using OOo for my work or personal purposes.  I simply find myself more productive with Office 2003 than with OOo 3.  But this is more about my 9 years of using Office than finding flaws with OOo 3 itself. I’ve resisted the upgrade to Office 2007, because the UI seemed so different than the Office 2003 UI that I’ve become so proficient with.  I clearly fall into the “everyone initially” category in Luis’ comment:

“That is part of why I am so impressed by Office 2007, from an innovation point of view- it took serious institutional balls to say ‘we know they’ll hate it at first, but we really believe that this is the Right Thing To Do.’ That isn’t easy, though I suppose it is easier when you’ve got an ironclad lock on people’s data ;)”

After reading Luis’ review of Office 2007, and more importantly, this awesome presentation about the Ribbon UI, I’m putting in a request to upgrade to Office 2007 (on my work machine).  At the other end of the spectrum, Sun’s Simon Phipps comments on Luis’ blog:

“…it’s worth noting that one of the differentiators that’s got some of the largest new enterprise users of OO.o on board has been the fact that they usually don’t have to budget to retrain Office users when they switch to OO.o. MSFT doesn’t have to worry so much as all their customers are locked in, but it’s been a significant growth factor for OO.o in the last year in my experience.”

What about you, are you an OOo or MS Office user?  And why?

I recently read Dave Roberts, VP of Strategy at Vyatta, post titled “Cisco: reducing costs with open source, pocketing profits” and it got me thinking.  Vyatta is a provider of open source networking products that compete with Cisco.

Dave writes:

“The fact that Cisco, or anybody, uses open source as an ingredient technology isn’t surprising. It’s a great way to reduce costs. The question is, do you, the user get any benefit from it?”

To be clear, Dave has no issue with vendors using open source in a proprietary product.  He does however suggest that some of the vendor derived benefits from using open source should be passed to customers.

Dave asks 5 questions that aim to quantify the customer benefit of their vendor using open source in a proprietary product.  Based on these 5 questions, Dave suggests that Cisco’s actions around open source are self serving and have little, if any, customer value.

I’m inclined to reach a slightly different conclusion.

When WebSphere stopped developing its own HTTP Server, and began to use the Apache Web Server, IBM did two things that helped the customer.  First, IBM took some of the folks working on IBM’s HTTP server and reassigned them to work on other features that have customer value.  This clearly helped IBM customers because the new features delivered by the reassigned engineers solved customer pain points.  Second, IBM ensured that some of the original HTTP server headcount was assigned to work on the Apache project as part of their IBM role.  This helped IBM and non-IBM customers alike by helping build out a more robust product at Apache.  IBM has used this approach for many components within IBM products.  It seems that Cisco is following step one from the IBM approach.

Sure, the use of open source has benefited Cisco’s bottom line.  But is it possible that Cisco’s customers have also benefited from new features faster as a result of Cisco engineers not having to work on “commodity” function?  I suspect the answer is yes.

What do you think?

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