Monday, 11 January 2010

Open Source in Content Management

A belated happy new year to you all. Apparently I do actually have readers, as this post from John Mancini points out that this blog is number 14 on the Technorati list of 'ECM and content management' blogs ! Although I will have to blog a bit more often to get my "authority rating" somewhere up near John's !

Having not blogged for over a month (well it was the holidays, and I have been guest writing for a non-techie blog) I was just about to do a post reviewing Prof. Andrew McAfee's book on Enterprise 2.0, but my old mate Laurence beat me to it today, with his review over at Word of Pie !

So, finally, onto the place of open source in content management, as per the title. Why tackle this subject, because my other colleague, Janus Boye blogged about his presentation on this topic at a recent British Computer Society event. He mentioned his confusion, and asks his readers:

"Dear reader, perhaps you can help me out? Am I am the only one thinking that:
  • open source has lost its meaning and moved far beyond source code access to either a way of life for some very transparent vendors, or a new way to capitalize on software and attract snazzy investors
  • open source does not have any real benefits for the buyers
  • open source does not equal open standards. And, by the way, which open standards (except those from the W3c, e.g. HTML and XML) are used and referred to by all the analysts and vendors?"
Well...... lets see, we should take these in order:
  • Open source has lots it meaning - nope, I don't think so ! However, I agree the context in which people use the model has broadened considerably over the years. However open source code is open source code - you either make it available or you don't, whatever your reasons as a vendor. But this leads onto the next point.....
  • Open source does not have any real benefits for the buyers. Whoa there Janus, that's a rather sweeping statement ! Of course it may be true for some buyers, just as it is not for others. It depends on the context of the organization. Some benefits appear to me to be available for all, for example open source normally means a 'free' download version, which means you may not need to pay 'license' costs for test and dev environments, or at least for 'experimentation' VM's for your developers to "play" with the product. However I do feel that access to source code has its real benefits to organizations that want to do complext in house development. Having been involved in a broadly scoped and complex EMC Documentum implementation, do I think having the source code would have helped my developers if we had been using Alfresco instead - hell yes ! But unless you have development resources to make the use of it, then access to the source code is not going to be of much benefit.
  • Open source does not equal open standards - on this we can agree. However, generally speaking I think all things being equal, the "open source vendors" (or projects) have a better track record with respect to implementing standards. Certainly the open source players like Alfresco where first out of the stable with CMIS implemenations (even before the nascent standard had been ratified).
I agree with Janus closing remark - that customers should not "rush into open source", that is common sense, you should never rush any technology procurement with out fully considering your context and environment, and ensuring you have a good solid understanding of your requirements. If you really don't understand your requirements, your going to have a hard time fulfilling them !


There is also no good reason at all to preclude open source vendors / open source projects / products on some odd 'principal' - examine the potential benefits and you may find that they fit well with your standard way of doing things, your culture and your requirements.


A colleague I know slightly less well than Janus is Seth Gottlieb who is an open source CMS expert who blogs at Content Here. If you want to discuss the benefits (or disbenefits) of open source with Janus, join him and the rest of his team at the excellent JBoye 2010 conference in Philadelphia in May.


Cheryl McKinnon said...

Happy New Year, Jed. Some great stuff inspired by the Janus Boye query. Now that I'm 3 months into the world of open source ECM, the nuances of the different approaches to development are apparent to me. It's not about open source for the sake of open source - an organization needs to start with its requirements.

But there are some inherent advantages that the open source model can deliver - including agility to stay close to customer requirements, move fast to respond to new trends/platforms, and simplicity in getting a pilot/prototype moving.

2010 will be a fascinating year.

rainer said...

Hey Jed, nice blog. You now have another reader :)
What many people find difficult wrt open source is that with it comes a set of responsibilities. You have to get under the hood. You have to invest in playpen/creative research. You need more tech acumen. And you have to know that it's less about saving money than it is about choice. But without committing to the new responsibilities your choices will be poorly informed, your os benefits aren't realized. You join the (all too often ignorant) bleating ranks of the os naysayers.

And yes, open source does not mean open standards, but at least everything is visible.

Oh, and what's with that word "disbenefit"? I'm watching you :-)

Jed Cawthorne said...

Happy new year to you too Cheryl - I am sure it will indeed be an interesting one !

Rainer - thanks for the comment, I agree with all you say. As for 'disbenefit' - I am not sure there is such a word in British English, but on this side of the atlantic, it appears we make up all sorts of words ! :-)