May 21, 2010

The obsession with closed-source

Filed under: Blog — krkhan @ 7:46 pm

A few days back, my university held a series of seminars on SharePoint. A friend of mine cornered me and kept convincing me vigorously that SharePoint is the single-most communicative advancement in the history of mankind since verbal correspondence.

As a student, I have never used any of the ECMS stacks. I do however know people who have used everything from Lotus to Nuxeo. The thing I did notice in all ECMS installations was that ECMS itself aren’t “black-box” products. That is, they’re platforms which allow their functional scopes to be extended via custom development. Most of these people have at one point or other hired services for training or development of their ECMS solutions. This friend had in fact, hired a third-party SharePoint developer just a few days back for his start-up company. All of these observations lead me to one question: If you’re going to spend money for customizing products distributed via the retail paradigm, why not invest in the open-source paradigm instead?

Bruce Perens summarizes the open-source approach in his paper The Emerging Economic Paradigm of Open Source:

Thus, to make your business more desirable to customers, you should spend more on differentiating software that makes your business more desirable, and less on software that doesn’t differentiate your business. Open Source is the key to spending less on non-differentiators, by distributing cost and risk that was formerly your company’s alone across multiple collaborating companies.

An open-source ECMS solution like Alfresco would not only save the owners a great deal of dough, it would also make the process of customization easier. Similarly, the organizations would not have to put up with insane licensing terms such as buying full Office licenses for each user even if he uses only the web-based app on a non-Windoze OS. However, my question was answered instantly when I mentioned Alfresco to the friend. Instead of inquiring further about the open-source alternative, the question was:

“What exactly does this Open-Source company do?”

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