Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Open Source Big Dog: Red Hat or Sun?

So my question is simple: Who is the open source big dog?

The answer to the question as stated is likely IBM.
You're welcome Savio. :-) IBM, of course, benefits nicely from its investments in Apache and Eclipse and has done a lot to make Linux what it is today. But IBM is not betting the farm on open source, so let me tweak my question to be:

Who is the open source [as a business] big dog?

The answer really boils down to Red Hat vs. Sun.

Red Hat is the incumbent big dog, of course. They have a nice portfolio of Linux and JBoss Middleware offerings. And Red Hat's financial performance last fiscal year was quite impressive.

Red Hat however continues to suffer from [re]breathing its own air. "Red Hat Announces Improvements in Organizational Alignment to Focus on Top Priorities" just underscores Red Hat's "business as usual" approach.

The above "news" simply talks about how folks like Cormier and Pinchev (long-time executive team members) will "Assume Responsibilities to Enable and Accelerate Growth". Snore. I'd like to think that that's been their focus for the past few years.

They've clearly done a great job convincing Jim Whitehurst (new CEO last January) that there's no need to add fresh talent to the team. Hey Jim, you already have the A-Team, so there's no reason to change things. Just look at last year's financial performance after all.

Call me naive, but while Red Hat's financial performance has been quite good, the measure of "big dog" status needs to go beyond that. Red Hat can continue to grow nicely off of its Linux and JBoss Middleware businesses, but "big dogs" need to aggressively lead the charge into new areas. Which requires fresh blood with fresh ideas, in my opinion. Asking people who are good at executing on "business as usual" to aggressively expand into new areas does not work.

Meanwhile....Sun is busy marking its own territory in its quest to be the big dog.

Jonathan Schwartz's recent statements make Sun's strategy pretty clear:
"Everything Sun delivers will be freely available, via a free and open license (either GPL, LGPL or Mozilla/CDDL), to the community. Everything. No exception."

Sun sponsors a portfolio of open source technologies arguably wider than Red Hat's portfolio...from OpenOffice to Java to NetBeans to Glassfish to OpenSolaris to...

The acquisition of MySQL.

Sun not only added a database to their footprint, they added a great team (Marten Mickos, Zack Urlocker, etc.) with a strong open source pedigree. If Jonathan Schwartz manages the acquisition and integration properly, he will listen to and value the input from the MySQL team. MySQL's success and market momentum has been impressive and Sun finally seems to have a better appreciation of the importance of momentum and what it means to lead the market.

Matt Asay's article entitled "Ubuntu + Sun = Very good idea" expands further:
"But Sun does recognize the importance of momentum for it right now, and it wants the favor of open-source developers pulling its way. With MySQL and Ubuntu in its court, it's hard to see how it could possibly be less sexy in the market."

While Sun is making great strides, I need to see more from them before I entirely buy into their ability to execute. Sun's open source portfolio doesn't have enough #1's in it to overtake the current top dog. Moreover, Sun has historically stumbled and fumbled in executing on its software strategy. The transition from McNealy to Schwartz, who has been leading Sun into new areas, came just in time. But I still need to see more. While Sun gets "community"...they don't have a strong history of success in the software business. And their commitment to open source almost came too late.

So for now, my answer to the question "Who is the open source [as a business] big dog?" is:

Red Hat

But Red Hat needs to realize that past success does not guarantee future dominance. Red Hat needs to improve its ability to grow into new areas. It needs to make its ability to expand its footprint a strategic weapon.

Focusing purely on business as usual may yield some solid results over the coming year, but will ultimately result in decreased momentum...

...and the crowning of a new open source big dog.

I got some private emails about this post. I believe Matt Asay hit the nail on the head in his "Former JBoss executive to Red Hat: Don't rest on your laurels".

This post is purely based on my desire to see Red Hat step up and lead. And I mean lead beyond Linux. To Matt's point...a response of "we already are" just proves they are missing the point entirely.

Frankly, IBM, HP, Oracle and others set the table for the Linux market (years ago, they all poured a ton of marketing $$'s and other resources into putting the "Enterprise" in Linux). Yes, Red Hat did a lot too, but they benefited greatly from the sugar daddy investments in the Linux market.

Red Hat's move into middleware (i.e. beyond Linux) illustrates the fact that those same sugar daddies are likely NOT interested in helping Red Hat market themselves beyond Linux. It is up to Red Hat to prove it can do that themselves. And they need to prove that they can do it beyond middleware as well.

So, yes, execution is very important, but maintaining and increasing momentum is critical! Otherwise your competitor with the mojo will be more than happy to be the big dog. In this industry, it’s not an either or. If you want to stay on top, you need momentum and you need to execute.

And as Matt stated: "this isn't intended to be a rant against Red Hat." As the big dog, I simply expect a great deal from them....as should others.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Focus on Meaningful Website Traffic

I'm a regular reader of Seth Godin's blog and his "Silly Traffic" posting struck a chord with me.

Rather than get excited at and obsessed by silly website traffic numbers, Seth thinks "it’s more productive to worry about two other things instead.
  1. Engage your existing users far more deeply. Increase their participation, their devotion, their interconnection and their value.
  2. Turn those existing users into ambassadors, charged with the idea of bring you traffic that is focused, traffic with intent."

One way to engage users more deeply and groom ambassadors is to integrate social applications and social networking into your existing website.

My friends over at Ringside Networks recently launched an offering designed to "Bring the Power of Social Networking to Every Website".

What does this mean exactly? Well, let's look at Ringside's latest customer news:

  • Haddonfield Running Company enhances brand and builds customer ties online with Ringside Social Application Platform. They do not sell products on the web, they simply want to build and improve their brand. They are leveraging Voomaxer, a Facebook social application for runners, and providing application users the ability to interact via Facebook, Runningco.com, or both.
  • Fulcrum Gallery unites art lovers across Facebook and their own e-commerce website using Ringside Social Application Platform. In order to open up new revenue streams, they have created a custom social application called “What Is Art?”. This application highlights a selected piece of abstract art and allows users in both Facebook and the Fulcrum Gallery websites to comment. These comments are posted on users’ feeds to friends, inviting them to add comments and rate comments. Fulcrum Gallery is offering weekly incentives for the most popular comments.

Both are great examples of opening up new and compelling ways to interact with prospective customers and giving them a reason to increase their participation, devotion, interconnection and value.

So are you focusing on driving meaningful interactions with your website visitors?

Or are you just being silly?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Invented Open Source?

I stumbled across this Federal Computer Week article - "Sun founder extols open source for government" - and wondered if it was an April Fools joke. The quote that caught my eye was: "We invented open source," McNealy declared in a tone that dared anyone to challenge the claim, and he listed its advantages."

Wow...McNealy invented open source...that was news to me. I thought folks like Stallman, Perens, Raymond, and Augustin played an important part in the early "open source" days...but McNealy? Hmmm....let's see if Wikipedia's definition of Open Source can clarify.

Just as I thought...no McNealy mentioned there. As a matter of fact, I always thought McNealy struggled with understanding the benefits of open source. For example, let's look at "Sun’s McNealy: Java won’t be open source", Government Computer News, March 24, 2004. McNealy stated that “We’re trying to understand what problem does it solve that is not already solved”. I must say that a lot has changed since McNealy's departure from Sun.

Anyhow, enough about McNealy...when we all know that the real story is How Microsoft invented open source. Back in November 2001, Bill Gates was quoted as saying: "The reason that you see open source there at all is because we came in and said there should be a platform that's identical with millions and millions of machines, and the BIOS of that should be open to everybody to use, and all the extensibility should be there."

This article explains a lot actually, and I'd argue that the core of Bill Gates quote still sums up Microsoft's open source strategy: Microsoft feels their pervasive platform enabled the rise and success of open source. Moreover, Matt Asay recently wrote a good article summarizing Microsoft's continued dilemma with open source.

So, in closing, I think it's safe to say that neither McNealy nor Gates invented open source...because it was actually....me....yeah...it was me! I invented open source....way back when I was married to.....uhhh....Morgan Fairchild....yeah....that's the ticket!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Business of Open Source

I read Cal Evans' blog entitled "Thoughts on Open Source, Running a Company, and OSBC"; in it he chronicles his thoughts from OSBC last week. Since I'm a JBoss guy, what initially caught my eye was the fact that he mentioned JBoss, and ex-JBossians, a couple of times in his rant.

I want to state first that I agree with MANY of the points Cal makes; I'll get to those after I touch on the points I had issues with.

I'll start off with his biggest rant that businesses were bastardizing (my word, not his) the intent of "open source" by trying to monetize the projects. My initial reaction is "what do you expect to hear at the Open Source BUSINESS Conference".

Also, he seemed to imply that ex-JBossians have sold out: "Developers seem to be willing to sell out for bucks these days." To quote Marc Fleury...great code just doesn't fall from the sky. Nobody should have to apologize for paying great developers to do what they love to do full time.

I'm not sure which ex-JBossians Cal was referring to, but I know, for example, that the Ringside Networks guys created and launched a new project and company at OSBC. All of the code is out in the open and that team is actively recruiting folks to participate in their project. I actually think it's healthy for people from JBoss, Red Hat, and other open source companies to branch out and start new projects/companies. It helps ensure that open source continues to expand its reach and useful footprint.

The business of open source can be done the right way...and it can be done the wrong way...which leads to some of Cal's other points:

  • "Free Download!=Open Source": I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree. 'nuf said.
  • "Business people who work with open source consider it a business model": Open source is not a business model...it IMPACTS the business model. With easy and free access to the source code and binary distributions, open source takes an adoption-led approach to the market. It enables users to decide if the technology is worth using and if the project is worth interacting with. This results in a different approach to sales and marketing. Some things need to be done differently...otherwise you risk disaster for the business AND project. Do NOT confuse having a business associated with an open source project as selling out, being less transparent, etc. At JBoss, we worked hard at making sure we kept a balance between JBoss the company and JBoss the projects.
  • "Hire from your community": Relates to the business point above. Business and community CAN coexist. Professional Open Source leverages the $$'s generated by the business to further grow the community of interest, ensure future vibrancy of the projects, add new projects/technologies, etc.
  • "Transparency is the new black": Agree. This is actually what makes open source powerful! You can't afford to be half-pregnant here.
  • "Outsource everything that is not a core competency": Don't get me started on this topic! :-) I agree with your point 1000%; this is the basic core vs. context argument. If you try to outsource what makes you different...then what do you really have.
  • "If you take yourself too seriously, no one else will take you seriously at all": I also have issues with people who take themselves too seriously. Anybody worth their salt wants to be the best at what they do, so drive and passion do not necessarily equal "too serious". I find the most down to earth people are those that love what they do and who they do it with.

Good thoughts Cal...thanks for sharing.