Is Open Source Competing Unfairly?
Commercial open source firms go to market trying to create an “unfair” competitive advantage that lets them win customers more easily than their competitors. So do most other companies. Commercial open source firms do this by bypassing the traditional purchasing process by getting their software into customer companies for free, before the customers even know they will need the software. But is an employee’s decision to install a piece of open source software a good decision for the company? After all, every software locks in its users, whether open source or not.
MySQL’s CEO likes to joke about how many CIOs don’t know that they have MySQL installed internally already. A recent article recounts the story of a customer call, where the CIO declared they are “a proprietary software shop” only to be contradicted by a MySQL sales person saying that the company downloaded MySQL (and presumably used it) more than 1,300 times over the last six months. Open source is a go-to-market strategy that relies on employees of future customer companies to try out the open source software, under the radar screen of IT and purchasing.
Did you ever download a content management system or a wiki engine to get your workgroup going? What happened when your IT organization realized that they needed to license and operate this software, because it was becoming important? Did the firm behind the open source software have an advantage in the purchasing process? How did the evaluation and purchasing process look like when there already was a champion for one solution in the house, and the locked-in-pain of moving from the existing solution to another solution was oh so apparent?
Obviously, open source creates a competitve advantage for selling the software. It is under the radar screen of IT and its CIO and typically bypasses existing regulations, for better or worse. It locks customer firms into a specific solution before the firms even know they’ll need this software. Personally, I don’t mind. As far as I can tell, this is just smart competitive strategy, and it is up to each company to handle this appropriately.
I would love to hear, however, whether you’ve seen this process happen. Were you a champion who brought in some open source software? Where you annoyed about an implicit (and premature) decision by a colleague? Did the purchasing process become contentious?
Disclaimer: I’m a fan of open source, most of the time. Well, of good software, in general. However, business realities are what they are, and one should take a sober look at them. That’s what I’m trying to do here.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!