Friday, October 26, 2007

open source business love fest .. not!

Looks like InfoWorld bloggers Dave Rosenberg and Savio Rodrigues and CNet blogger Matt Asay all think that open source companies shouldn't compete with each other but only with the proprietary companies. Dave Rosenberg started this line of thought .. soon after we published some performance data showing how the WSO2 ESB was faster than both Mule and ServiceMix. Just for the record, we did publish results prior to that showing that our ESB was faster than the leading proprietary one too (from the company which is in the news lately) but their license explicitly states "you will not publish performance results of our stuff" .. so we couldn't name them.

So, should open source companies compete against each other? In an ideal world, no. In the real world, they jolly well do. They compete for community, they compete for mindshare, they compete for press coverage and of course they compete for customers. Thinking that they do not, and should not, is totally naiive.

There was a time when there were lots of evil proprietary ones and exactly one open source alternative. Today, everyone's doing open source and its no longer that simple. Can you seriously say that Apache Synapse and Apache ServiceMix are not competing with each other? Or that Apache Axis2 and Apache CXF are not competing with each other? If nothing else, they're competing for the precious community; in both those cases the products are even in the same open source community. What about the big guys' open source products? Should JBossAS not compete with IBM WebSphere CE? Open source is everywhere and is simply an alternative business model for many- to say two open source products shouldn't compete with each other simplifies reality too much.

Dave, Matt & Savio all seem to think that customers only compare the evil proprietary products against one of our products. Hello? Are we on the same planet? Any customer worth their muscle will compare against all available options and take the one that best suits their needs. Why in the world would they restrict themselves to only one open source alternative? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Even if they are restricting to one, let's be real, we all want to be the one don't we? Otherwise how do I become the one to take money away from BEA instead of Dave? While it is indeed great if the fraternity of the open source brotherhood wins against the proprietary ones, its much better (for me) if in fact I win with my product instead of Dave with his. And if Dave doesn't feel that way I'm sure his investors will remind him that that's his job :). I don't think my investors would be happy if in a few years WSO2 has to go under because "open source won, but not us". They don't give a hoot about who wins against you- if you lose you lose. It doesn't matter if its an open source competitor or a proprietary competitor; its simply a competitor.

Now, when we do run into a customer that's only comparing us against a bunch of proprietary alternatives then that's a great situation and we love it. To do that, we need to win the mindshare battle against other open source projects to the point that the customer looks at us as the de facto open source winner in that space. Apache HTTP is in that mode. MySQL is in that mode. JBossAS is in that mode. Mule is in that space to a great extent for the ESB now.

So what is an upstart like us who has an ESB supposed to do? Give up and go home because a project that was the first and only open source ESB for many years has mindshare? Or go out and prove to the world that we have a better product? We have chosen to do the latter.

(I'm not picking on the ESB .. at WSO2 we compete in a bunch of areas, not just in the ESB space .. but ESB is an easy one to use because there are simply so many of them around.)

Does that make me a bad open source citizen? Hogwash. Competition is good for you. If its not us it'll be someone else. If your product can't be the best and if you can't deliver better value around the product (services, documentation, stability, comfort and all that stuff) then you will lose. And you deserve to lose.

Bottom line today is that if you are an open source company competing in a crowded space, then you have to compete with other open source products as well as proprietary ones. Certainly, don't focus on the open source ones only (as Dave and Matt and others are certainly correct that you are then competing for crumbs instead of the sandwich) but don't give in saying "ah you're using someone else's open source product? No problem then, we'll go away."


Ashok said...

Great Move to Blogger sanjiva.. ..! U can expect more comments now :)

dave said...


First off, don't flatter yourself. My original post (months ago--nice job staying relevant) was actually geared toward some other startups who were asking for advice. Your "benchmarks" are irrelevant and have had (as one would expect) zero impact on Mule adoption or customer traction. Good try though.Maybe you want to publicly discuss some of your customer wins? Perhaps a discussion about what ESB product the Sri Lankan government is using? (hint: it's Mule)

You are fundamentally correct that companies have to compete somewhere. My argument is that there is no point going after crumbs when there are large pieces of pie available. This is Marketing 101. I am completely clear what my job is and what my investors expect of me. Are your investors happy with your strategy to aim low? Perhaps you can explain what will happen when you guys can't make enough money to survive and all the components become Apache after-thoughts? I will take my 50+ customers in less than one year and 2000+ Mule deployments as a sign that we might be doing something right.

No one is suggesting that competition is bad. In fact it's what drives all of us. We just aim higher. Good luck in the open source ghetto :>


Sanjiva Weerawarana said...


On being time relevant .. did you not notice that your pal Matt just wrote about the same topic recently too? As did Zack. I pointed to all three blogs; not just yours. Plus that's the beauty of blogging; I can blog about what I want when I want .. not just when you feel like raising an issue that interests you.

Saying that the Sri Lankan government uses Mule is as accurate as saying the US government uses one ESB. Did you really think that the government here is so networked as to come down to a single ESB? I wish it was, but its not.

Anyway, whichever part of the government it is, I'm GLAD they're using Mule instead of some proprietary one and spending gobs of my taxpayer Rupees! I hope you guys gave them a good discount on the support fees .. Sri Lanka is a very poor country after all :-).

Nowhere in my blog did I say that we will be going after the crumbs either. In fact if you read the last bit of it, I actually agreed with you that fighting for crumbs is not the right strategy.

Trust me, we are not aiming low :-).


Gowri said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.