Monday, October 29, 2007

Competition in open source is healthy

I read Sanjiva's post on the $subject and like to add my own observations. It is true that the Apache Web Server is the statue of liberty that stands tall among all the commercial web servers out there and has no peers in open source. However that is an isolated use case. We need to think more pragmatically. The predictions are such that, most companies, in the future will have some form of involvement with Open Source. Naturally there will be some form of competition, and it is unavoidable. But the more choice (open source or otherwise) a user has the better it gets, especially if there are several open source alternatives instead of one. If there is only one open source alternative and the user ends up with a bad experience with that solution, it can color the perspective of how that company, will look at open source in general.

Competition provides choice and facilitates continuous growth and innovation in open source solutions. It drives a community to be more responsive and responsible towards it's end users. This results in better support in the form of fixing bugs or answering questions on the list. Bcos if you are not growing or innovative or if you are not responsive or responsible towards the end users then they will look elsewhere. One could argue that there are companies that provide support. However one should not forget that these companies are built on top of the community and rely heavily on the community for it's success. And any fixes/patches they make usually go upstream. Companies that don't usually have problems and fade away.

Sometimes you would find that some community members are unhappy with the current direction of a project and they go ahead and form another project. The difference in direction or focus is perhaps an integral part of the evolutionary process. Some of these projects eventually create a company behind it. One could also argue that these companies fragment a community and promote competition. As long as this competition is both ethical and within the norms of standard industry practice, then the end users benefit from it. Why?? Bcos these companies will drive innovation, creativity and quality of the solutions they support, as their business model is based on it.

Therefore some form of competition that is ethical (not mud slinging or cut throat competition) is healthy for making open source a viable option in enterprise software. The process of evolution will weed out inferior solutions and ensure the survival of the fittest. However this should not be based on how much marketing muscle a project/company behind it has, but rather be based on the community aspect and technical merits.

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