Open Source Software and Product Management Tools
Matt Asay has a great blog post today on what Alfresco has learned with regards to their use of open source and product management, from both the perspective of their own product development feedback, as well as the strength of reuse by their customer base.
For years, our marketing has targeted buyers in these markets, pitching a low-cost, high-value alternative to proprietary ECM/WCM/RM.
Our customers didn't get the memo. While we were talking about ECM, many of the roughly 30,000 people downloading the product every month were using it as a foundation upon which to build their own applications, most of which would never be classified as ECM. They were creating their own category of infrastructure/middleware, using our technology.
The content application server was born, and we almost missed it, despite the fact that it was happening with our code. We were so busy marketing our vision that we almost missed listening to our users' vision(s). This new vision on an old way of using our product will significantly impact everything we do for years to come.
This is the sort of strategic edge I meant yesterday when discussing the extra tools a product manager has when open source software is added to the mix. Matt also points off to Vinnie Mirchandani's posted observations on how mainstream IT is rediscovering custom-built applications again. (Indeed it was exactly this sort of rationale coupled with open source software that was the impetus for the creation of Optaros in 2004 and why I went to work there.)
It really is about the engineering economic imperative of collaborative community development coupled with free and open source software licensing and enabled by the web and its ability to remove friction from the process. Developing good software is hard work, and we have shared software literally since we've been writing it. Brian Behlendorf gave a great talk around the time I began this blog where he made a number of key observations about open source repositories based on his experience. Open source projects don't "end" the way traditional development of IT applications end (sliding into withering maintenance) or vendor-led software products (being replaced by forced upgrades). Well run open source projects are much more organic. The software evolves and adapts. The building blocks are continually improving and very complex and powerful platforms can be constructed.
Carlo Daffura responded to yesterday's post with pointers to two posts supporting the idea of the economic value of open source software in product development. This certainly bears out our experience from 1995-1999 developing Interix (now Services for UNIX at Microsoft). Following one of Carlo's examples, Ari Jaaksi's paper is a fantastic overview of Nokia's experience launching the N770 and the cost savings to be had.
I essentially said yesterday that it's all just software business, that there is no "open source business model". Please don't misunderstand me. Open source licensed repositories and collaborative community development on the web substantially add to the tool set of product management on both the marketing and engineering sides of the house.