I had dinner with Dan Woods, CEO of EvolvedMedia Network and author of "Open Source for the Enterprise" along with a few other folks from the Eclipse foundation and Stephen Walli from Optaros at the Gartner Open Source conference in Orlando last week. Dan gave the closing keynote presentation at the conference. Not only was Dan the best dressed presenter (admittedly, not hard to do at an IT show) but his presentation was very well thought out and had a lot of practical suggestions for IT organizations who are new to open source.
For those who have been in the open source world and have seen how far it has come in recent years, we sometimes forget how open source is different from mainstream IT. One of the key points Dan Made is that because of how open source technology is developed, there's often a gap between what an IT organization wants and what the open source community creates. Dan presented the gap this way:
He explained that there sometimes isn't the fit and finish on open source products as required by IT organizations. To an IT audience, that appears to be a "Productization Gap", meaning it's missing some capabilities or is still rough around the edges. To the open source community, however, it's often just seen as a "Skills Gap", meaning folks should be willing to figure out how to go change the code, add in whatever features are missing, recompile it, and so on. Neither group is wrong in their view, but it depends on the perspective.
More importantly, this gap actually defines how people can make money in the open source business. It is precisely because of this gap, that there are commercial offerings, whether they are services, like Red Hat Network or products, like SugarCRM, that build on an open source foundation. Dan made the point that if Linux was perfectly productized, then there'd be no reason for Red Hat to exist.
This thinking is exactly what has driven our work at MySQL on our own MySQL Network. We know that our software is used and loved by millions worldwide. Yet we also know from our corporate customers that they actually have even higher expectations. Yesterday we closed a very significant deal with a mainstream Fortune 100 company who will be deploying MySQL Network to hundreds of servers. For them, the software is just a starting point. But what really drove adoption in their company was knowing that they could get the additional value of our service offering, including 24x7 support, software advisors, indemnification, knowledge base and more.
Commercial open source companies bridge the gap enabling mainstream IT users to gain the freedom of open source while maintaining their comfort with a trusted provider.
If you haven't seen Dan Woods speak, I encourage you to seek him out or pick up a copy of his open source book. Dan's also an expert in the area of corporate use of wikis, so look for his additional books also.