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."