Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bob Zurek's Open Letter to the Wall Street Journal

News has been slow in the EnterpriseDB world lately. I haven't posted in a while.

Bob Zurek is EnterpriseDB's (fairly) new CTO. He is an ex-IBM exec and maintains his blog on the IBM DeveloperWorks blog area. He's been blogging for a long time so I'm not sure how he worked out the move from IBM to EnterpriseDB and kept the same area.

Anyway, Bob posted an open letter to the Wall Street Journal about a reporter's take on Open Source. Bob objected to the reporter, Walter K. Mosberg, classifying open source as a two-edge sword.

But open source is a two-edge sword. While it draws on smart developers from many places, nobody is ultimately responsible for the quality of the product, and open source developers have an imperfect feel for how average people use software.

Bob says:
I’d like to respectfully take issue with this statement. As a person active in the tech industry, you know that there has been a strong open source track record in the software industry where many companies, both open source and traditionally commercial have embraced open source in a very big way. These companies include the likes of IBM, Sun and Novell but also emerging open source companies like EnterpriseDB, Talend, Compiere and SugarCRM. All these companies absolutely take responsibility for the quality of the product. I would also say that many of these companies employ some of the best user experience experts in the industry. As a former IBM executive I know that IBM works very hard on providing the user with the best experience in all aspects of their software. Making a statement claiming “open-source developers often have an imperfect feel for how average people use software” is not fair to those projects that employ user experience experts and put a great deal of effort in understanding average users.

I would actually be more inclined to agree with Mossberg. Most open source projects do not "employ user experience experts" or "put a great deal of effort in understanding average users". Not to say it's not good software. Look at postgres. Technically superior software but you still need to edit a complex text file to configure user permissions.

I would say that open source is a two-edge sword for other reasons too. I have spent most of my career working in large enterprises and I can tell you that the question of support, quality and licensing comes up very often.

"Who will support it and how long will they be around?" Can you name all of the company's that started as a support organization for an open source package and are no longer around?

GPL, LPGL, etc are death to large enterprises. The legal touch-points make for some interesting discussions when you are recommending an open source tool. Any time you need the lawyers to use "free" software, you might as well drop it.

That's one of the benefits of having a company like EnterpriseDB around. It's not open source. It's based on open source. Having to pay to use something just seems to make sense to lawyers. Anything else freaks them out.

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