Thursday, November 1, 2007

The term "open source" officially meaningless in the nonprofit sector

So I'm reading this NP Times article. The word open source is used 20 times.

Gene Austin (Convio) has a fairly hilarious quote:

"I think the confusion in open source in our market is that people look at vendors like us that have proprietary applications, and say that they're not believers in open source, and that cannot be further from the truth because we use those technologies to assemble and build a great application," Austin said.
First, technically, he is right. Second, few in the NPO sector probably gets the hilarity. :( And third, give me a break. Using open source tools and software to build proprietary products doesn't mean they are believers in open source.

The Open Source Initiative has a great quote on their home page:
The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.
I would venture that Convio believes in open source because it helps them lock in customers for a lower capital outlay. Simple as that. P.S. ANY SaaS (software as a service) vendor's EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) gets better the better as they lock in more and more customers.

The beacon of light in the article is, as ever, Holly Ross.
The question isn't really about open source, but about openness.
And this is the crux. Open source and openness (e.g. open APIs) can both contribute to lock in. Open source by giving proprietary vendors cheaper ways to build their solutions, and openness by making making other applications dependent. Salesforce is an absolute poster child for the lock in strategy (for their commercial customers)... to use AppExchange applications, APEX, or any of the other stuff in their ecology, you must pay Salesforce.

None of this is bad. Customers are getting better products that do more things that they need. It's just the concept that proprietary vendors would cloak themselves as supporters of open source software that irks me. :)

1 comment:

pearlbear said...

I agree with your point about the ways that people use the term "open source" is getting irksome, especially, as you say, when vendors use open source tools to produce proprietary products.

I'm not sure I agree that OpenAPIs help lock in - I think it's just the opposite. Sure, if people want to use Apex - they need to have a (paid or free) account - but if they want to migrate their data off of salesforce at some point, the OpenAPI makes that migration that much easier. And getting data out for other kinds of uses is also easier, and much less costly than, for example, if they were using Blackbaud, where you have to pay to get access to your own data.