Reading Michael Tiemann’s notes for his Open World Forum speech I can’t help but think that he’s attributing a point of value to open source that is much more aligned to open standards based software.

Tiemann writes:

“Lately, I have seen an increasingly important and new implication even beyond what Corey Doctorow has said about free when it comes to software: when the cost of acquisition goes to zero, the cost of retirement (aka “exit cost”) cannot be ignored.”

Tiemann goes on to suggest that the cost of exit for open source software is lower than proprietary software. That can sometimes be true. But open source is no panacea for exit costs. Open standards, while no panacea either, are orders of magnitude more helpful at reducing exit costs than open source by itself.

Let’s say I’m using an open source administration and management product, or an open source content management system and want to migrate to an alternative. How easy will that migration be? Compare with migrating in either direction from GlassFish Application Server to Apache Geronimo. The latter will be easier because both products are standards compliant with the JEE specifications. It goes without saying that open source isn’t a necessary condition to being standards compliant. I’d argue that the cost of exit for standards based software, open source or proprietary, is on average, equal or lower than the cost of exit of open source software around which there are no overarching standards.  I don’t have hard data to prove this point.  However, I do know that CIOs making middleware purchase decisions are keenly interested in reducing vendor lock-in through open standards.

I’m not alone in disagreeing with Tiemann’s views on software exit costs. Open source business intelligence vendor Pentaho’s James Dixon writes in response to Tiemann:

“…true that it might sometimes be easier to get your data out of an open system but most proprietary vendors have migration tools to help move data into their system from a competitors – and of course pre-sales engineers to help out.”

Again, while standards aren’t guarantees of seamless migrations and lower exit costs, standards do however ease the burden. If only open standards were given the same spotlight that open source receives.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”