Let’s get used to one fact: there is exactly one large, pure-play open source company, and that’s all there ever will be. Red Hat is it, for a variety of reasons, some of which its former CTO Brian Stevens has enumerated.
But here’s another, equally salient fact: Every company on the planet must embrace open source to varying degrees, including vendors that make their money selling proprietary software or services.
Many already do, to some degree. But the pace must accelerate.
In a world driven by developers, there is no other option, which is why open source has won. As Cloudera co-founder Mike Olson stresses, is that “You can no longer win with a closed-source platform, and you can’t build a successful stand-alone company purely on open source.” So what’s a company to do?
From Accepted To Expected
Open source is nothing new to the enterprise. Back in 2008 Gartner found that 85% of enterprises were already using open source in some way. As for the other 15%, well, they were also knee-deep in open source but simply didn’t know it.
More recently, Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond told the All Things Open crowd that 84% of developers now depend on open source, as reported by ZDNet. While those two numbers appear to show no progress, they actually demonstrate considerable momentum. In 2008 open source had touched 85% of enterprises; today it is actively used by 84% of developers within those enterprises.
Who Isn’t An Open Source Company?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’m leaving MongoDB to join Adobe, running mobile strategy for its digital marketing business. Not surprisingly, my departure for Adobe has raised some eyebrows, as I’ve been heavily involved in open source for 15 years, and Adobe doesn’t look like a traditional open source company.
One long-time Twitter follower, Atanas Entchev, told me he had “Questions about [my] decision to leave an open source shop to join a closed source shop.” I was confused, and told him so, arguing that “I don’t view Adobe that way. The digital marketing business includes Day and PhoneGap,” concluding that “every company must be an open source company now.”
Not an open source company like Red Hat. As I said above, there’s only one of those.
Rather, every company is now like Twitter, Facebook and Google. Or like Microsoft (gasp!), Oracle (double gasp!) and Apple (cardiac arrest-plus-trip gasp!). Or even like Morgan Stanley, Wal-Mart and [insert the name of your favorite company here].
Not every company has an open source page. But every organization increasingly speaks open source, because they must. Developers demand it, and organizations depend on developers to invent the future.
How, Not If, We Use Open Source
In short, it’s no longer a meaningful accusation that this or that company is “proprietary.” Every company is, to some extent, just as every company is open source, to some extent. The real question is no longer about how you you license your software, but rather about the overall strategy for reaching developers.
Yes, open source invariably plays a part in any developer outreach, but it’s not the only factor.
After all, that most open of open source companies, Red Hat, still has plenty of work to do to attract developers, which is why after years of counting cash from ops people it’s reaching developers with an OpenShift and OpenStack story.
Open source is the ante; it’s not the end game. As important as open source licensing is for lowering barriers to adoption, simplicity and convenience are possibly even more important, something that developer darlings like Docker and, yes, MongoDB have demonstrated (not to mention Atlassian, a favorite of open source developers despite being firmly proprietary).
So let’s not get fixated on open source for open source’s sake. A certain measure of openness is now mandatory, and different companies will approach open source in a variety of ways. Much more interesting are holistic strategies for reaching developers.
Because developers are the real battleground for the next decade, no matter what kind of organization you work for.