However, outside of the software VC market, open source remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery. How does free pay? Is open source a backdoor towards communism? Is it anti-capitalist? Despite RHT’s market cap and the success of JBoss, I continue to meet many who question the wisdom and financial merits of open source.
Open source is rife with acronyms – GPL, MPL,
No IT manager worth his salt will put mission critical software infrastructure into production without a throat to choke. Telling the head of equities that trades are failing due to a software crash and that you have an email into a community forum asking for a fix will result in termination faster than you can say “dumb ass.”
In analyzing open source, I have talked to many developers who tell me they do not need support for many open source projects and that forums, list serves, and documentation provide the material they need to solve their problems. However, IT managers are focused more than ever on service levels and subscribing to open source vendor’s support subscriptions allows them to cover their asses if and when infrastructure fails and transactions are at risk.
If CYA is the key to monetization – what does that mean about the categories of software that are likely to succeed via an open source model? Fundamentally, the closer a product is to a transaction the more important CYA becomes. Applications that are not mission critical –content management, for example - run a material risk of developers using the GPL license and sourcing support from the community rather than via subscription arrangements with the vendor in question.
What other variables characterize successful open source companies:
- Established market- successful open source projects target established software markets where the incumbent vendors are over charging their customers for bloated, proprietary solutions. Famously, once RHT Linux met their enterprise expectations, Morgan Stanley’s purchases of Solaris servers fell off a cliff and the investment bank realized close to 10x cost reductions per CPU. Can you target a large market and deliver a standards-based product that allows IT organizations to grow their IT capacity at a greatly reduced cost basis?
- Evidence of organic pull most appropriately characterized by downloads, forum usage, etc.
- IP rights retained by C-corp established to commercialize project. Indemnities become challenging when it is difficult to provide documented attribution of source code ownership. Also, potential buyers will discount a company’s value if IP remains unclear.
- Active community – an active community of developers led by a project leader who is employed by the company
Next time someone asks you how free leads to fee…remember that IT managers and risk taking are oxymorons and that having a throat to choke while saving large amounts of money feels good!