InfoWorld's two minds on open source's value

InfoWorld's Bossie awards are supposed to judge the best open-source software, but publication ends up muddying the water with business models.

Each year InfoWorld sets out to rate the "best open source products" with its Bossie awards. Too bad it has decided to cloud the voting with open-source politics, as well.

The politics reveal themselves when InfoWorld tries to settle on a winner between Zenoss and OpenNMS. (Why Hyperic isn't also in that mix, or Reductive Labs' Puppet, I can't fathom, but...)

The editors write (note: the emphasis is mine):

Although Zenoss clearly has the more developed feature set, our Bossie goes to OpenNMS. The reason boils down to business models. OpenNMS is a purely open source software project, meaning that customers get the complete set of features available for free as open source. There is no "enterprise" version. OpenNMS makes its money strictly by selling support and training services.

Zenoss uses a common business model in the open source world: it provides an open source version of its software with a limited feature set for free, and it sells a more extensive "enterprise" version of the software with support through an annual subscription. So while Zenoss may be a good value compared to HP or IBM or CA, it's not a good value compared to OpenNMS.

If only enterprise IT could cavalierly discard superfluous things like "features" in favor of licensing ideology. But it can't, which is why Agilent, Telstra, Accenture, MySpace, and other companies that need enterprise-grade network management systems have been opting for Zenoss. They seem to need those pesky "features" that InfoWorld glosses over. They're buying a product, not a political platform.

Regardless, if we allow business model to be a valid factor in InfoWorld's decision criteria, how are we to explain its contradictory decision to judge Intalio the winner in the Business Process Management (BPM) category? The editors reason:

Intalio has been criticized regarding its open source claims, most likely because the company does not provide source code on its Web site (where binaries of the free community edition can be downloaded). However, Intalio's enterprise edition customers do get full access to source code, and the source code of community edition components -- which fall under Apache and Eclipse licenses -- are obtainable from their community-based repositories....

However, new beta features reflect enterprise needs, including a business rules engine, Ajax-driven forms for easier editing, and a more streamlined deployment interface. The full enterprise edition also includes BAM (business activity monitoring), a portal interface, ECM (enterprise content management) based on Alfresco, fail-over clustering, and support for application servers beyond Apache Geronimo.

I think Intalio is great, but I can't understand why Zenoss' business model is considered a demerit but for Intalio, which has the same model, it's a non-factor. Zenoss also provides source code to its enterprise customers, so why is Intalio right because it provides an enterprise-class experience with an Open Core model but Zenoss is wrong for doing the exact same thing?

Personally, I think awards should be given based on the merits that will most appeal to IT buyers, and such will have little to nothing to do with business model nuances and everything to do with solving business problems at a compelling price. If Zenoss is the better enterprise IT bet, shouldn't it get the Bossie, regardless of OpenNMS' licensing model?

InfoWorld set out to name the "top open source products." By deciding, instead, to name the top open-source products and business models, it has failed to serve its audience as well as it has in the past. The Bossies are still a good resource, but it's best to read the reasons behind some votes carefully, as they may have nothing to do with the products at all.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay

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