Defining competition within open-source companies

We need to set our sights a little higher as an open-source industry.

In talking with my PR firm (Page One) the other day, it struck me that many open-source companies fritter away far too much attention and time competing with...themselves. That is, they talk about how they're better than another open-source company or project.

Why? This isn't about keeping the faith with "the family," but rather about market realities: to beat a fellow open-source company or project is like winning the third-grade's sack race. It might feel good, but it makes no appreciable difference on the world. Beating a string of underdogs won't matter one iota compared to beating the top dogs.

Hyperic's target is the Big Four of IT management, not the Little Four. MuleSource should be focused on Tibco, not ServiceMix. SugarCRM is after Siebel and Salesforce.com, not vTiger. OpenBravo offers a new approach to ERP that SAP and Oracle can't easily replicate - it should not be focused on Compiere, Adempiere, or other open-source ERP projects.

To "win" against such competition is to lose the larger market battles, if that's all a company does. The real prize is market domination, and that necessarily comes at the expense of the proprietary incumbents, and not necessarily on the back of open-source competition.

At Alfresco, I can't remember the last time my sales team competed on a deal with an open-source competitor. Here in the US, it has possibly happened once, but I honestly can't remember a single time. In part this is how we define ourselves and how we define our competition. Our competition is the widespread dearth of content-management adoption as well as the wasteful inefficiencies of the proprietary incumbent vendors. In turn, our customers and prospective customers compare us to the big incumbents, where we compete exceptionally well.

If you're an open-source company, stop wasting marketing dollars and sleepless nights about your downloads compared to an open-source "competitor's" downloads. Instead, compare yourself to the large, proprietary vendors that are wasting your prospective customers' money, time, and patience.

Open-source companies need to set their sights higher. We can't afford to compete among ourselves when the real opportunity is in overcoming non-use of technology (due to cost, complexity, etc.) and the waste that comes from proprietary vendors.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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