Running the open-source bulls with Openbravo
Open source allows a couple of Catalans in Pamplona to start a global company with tens of thousands of downloads every month. Try that with proprietary software.
I'm at Openbravo's first ever community event, and I'm impressed. In a market so heavily dominated by the big ERP vendors (SAP, Oracle, Microsoft), it's gratifying to see a room filled with people interested in an open-source alternative to proprietary, clunky ERP software (with 800 companies contacting Openbravo to become partners).
I particularly like the fact that Openbravo is coming "clean" to the small-to-medium-sized ERP market. Oracle and SAP are trying to go "down-market" to reach this demographic (spending piles of money to sell for a low price to SMEs...?), but this rarely works, as Clayton Christensen has pointed out. It's hard to support the cost model needed to reach this market unless you're built to fit that market, as Openbravo is.
The other thing I like about Openbravo is that it proves you don't have to be based in Silicon Valley to succeed. The company is based in Pamplona (i.e., the running of the bulls). And yet its success has been global and impressive, a true testament to the power of open source:
Openbravo has had an exceptional first year, by any measure. Openbravo's ERP software gets downloaded ~35,000 times each month, jumping from an average of 20,000 downloads per month in late 2006.
More interestingly, the software is not simply downloaded and forgotten. If you correlate the download numbers with Openbravo's wiki activity (documentation) and forum activity (peer-to-peer collaboration and requests for help), it's clear that its users are actively doing just that: using the system. Use, for an open-source company, is its lifeblood, because use leads to paid support, certified binaries, etc.
Openbravo is clearly doing something right. The company has been one of Sourceforge's top-10 projects for the last several months, and has won a slew of product awards (Infoworld's BOSSIE, Red Herring 100, etc.. In terms of product downloads, it is triple that of any other open-source ERP project.
This is the power of open source. Openbravo was effectively started in early 2006. That's when it spun up its community and started operating like a true open-source project. One-and-a-half years later, it's providing value to several hundred thousand businesses around the world.
Is it possible to do this outside of open source? Sure. Is it easier with open source? I think the results speak for themselves.
Disclosure: I am an advisor to Openbravo.