Open source, automotive manufacturing & obscurity

Register or Login to like
Register or Login to like

I'm very puzzled by the recent blog by Brian Prentice of Gartner.   Comparing just-in-time manufacturing to open source software?   Perhaps Brian is thinking of open source components like Apache Tomcat, which is often nestled inside of proprietary software solutions.  But comparing an automobile which essentially remains unchanged after manufacturing to a software product that is constantly improved with new releases?

I agree that the four questions posed by Brian are important.  I've seen them many times in my 30+ years hanging around enterprise software.  But there's more to it.    Customers do like to have feature bake-offs on current features.   Yet they also care about future features.  They do want maintenance, but they also want software upgrades.  They care about innovation.    That's how new software companies are born, and existing ones maintain relevancy.  

Brian misses this point completely in his writing.  And it's around innovation that the promise of open source excels.    Drupal is a great example.  With thousands of contributors, the current functionality is extensive.   And new features?  The scalability and speed of innovation are virtually impossible to match in a proprietary software company.  Sure, open source carries other challenges and risks, but that's where companies like Red Hat, Canonical, Alfresco and of course Acquia come in.  Ensuring risk associated with open source is mitigated and the promise is realized.

To be fair, Brian's closing comment around “generic open source” holds some water.  Not all open source projects offer similar levels of value.  However, claiming that open source is headed to customer obscurity while open source solutions are still growing rapidly in popularity is peculiar.  And ignoring innovation as a decision criterion for a constantly changing business tool is a major oversight.

This blog post is cross posted from Tom's blog on

Tom Erickson is the chief executive officer at Acquia, a commercial open source company that offers enterprise support, hosting and more for the open source Drupal project.

1 Comment

Open source does do better when it is the tool, not the product.

Enterprise Linux companies make money not FROM open source, but by SUPPORTING open source. They could, theoretically, be supporting closed-source solutions the same way.

So I think Brian Prentice is trying to focus on so long as the end result (software package) does what people want, it doesn't matter if it is open source or closed source, just like people buying cars don't care if it was sitting pre-built or just-in-time built to their specifications so long as it has/does what they want and has that "new car" smell!

His 4 questions ;
1.does the software do what I need it to do (feature bake-off)?

Whether it is open source or closed source the feature bake-off is ultimately up to the product. Firefox provided features that IE did not have until they had to innovate with ver. 7 and on. Considering the market share that Firefox has developed in a relatively short amount of time, it seems open source CAN bake-off against closed-source competitors.

2.who will help me when I have a problem with the software?
3.who will maintain the software and how much will that cost?

Both of these questions perpetuate the idea that you pay for the product so you have a number to call or a person to wag your finger at when it doesn't work.

It ignores the companies who offer paid support for their products and expects open source to follow the closed source methods.
It also ignores the support structure that is derived from the community, which helped in developing it in the first place.

Most major applications are developed and supported by a team of people, so if one leaves the project the project can stay afloat. The smaller, and usually more consumer-orientatated projects may be developed by one or two people and, in these cases, the chance of it becoming a dead project is higher. How many companies, though, should rely on these applications?

4.will I end up being beholden to the software supplier?

No matter what software is selected, it makes one held by that technology until the company is willing to move away and invest in another software package.

While this is a good question, the only difference between closed source and open source is really which one is the "dominant" or "standard" in the industry. Microsoft Office formats are the "dominant" in the industry, and so the non-dominant ones have to adapt and offer the ability to open these formats. If it were reversed, then MS Office would have to adapt to whateve the dominant form is.

So I see Brian's blog post being that open source, in and of itself, is not the "holy grail", but it still comes down to the project/organization/company/team behind the program/project that matters.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.