Saturation point for enterprise open source?

Have we done all that needs to be done? Who will fund the development of open-source software for the future?

It feels a bit like the enterprise open-source market has slowed. Not the sales aspect of the market, but the number of new players entering the market. We're getting greater breadth but not greater depth.

I hear each week about a new open-source vendor doing X, Y, or Z. Early on, all of the action was in the big categories like CRM, ERP, ECM, and EAI. Now people ping me about companies in the "Web container" space, tech support solutions. Big problems to be solved, to be sure, but big markets? I don't know.

This is good, in a way. It means that the commercial open-source ecosystem gets richer and more diverse. But it also worries me that open source is not providing a deep bench/several alternatives for each particular enterprise need. It's far too early to have the open-source software market consolidated in a few bets/vendors.

On the other hand, maybe it's just a sign that there isn't much room in these old, established markets for many new entrants. Buyers just don't have patience for several new alternatives to BEA Systems, for example: they may just want one good open-source alternative (or two).

This certainly hasn't been the case for companies using open source to forge new markets (like Google, Yahoo, and Digg). They aren't starting with the enterprise software market, but are often getting turned in that direction as they hunt for new areas to grow. Maybe Tim O'Reilly is right: perhaps this is where all open source will go next; fuel for a new breed of un-software company that focuses on service and not software.

I don't share Tim's optimism that open source will get built without companies to push it, however, and Google and the Web 2.0 crowd don't give back consistently enough to fuel open-source development. Every Web 2.0 company today is the beneficiary of commercial open-source communities: Red Hat/SUSE Linux, MySQL, IBM's investment in Apache. They were good projects before companies got involved, but they were made enterprise ready in many cases by enterprise software vendors. They are starting to learn the responsibility inherent in adopting open source, but not enough to fuel it for their markets.

And so we're left with the new open-source vendors developing software for the old-world software markets, which in turn gets picked up by new-world Web service vendors. If the old-world software markets start to droop, who will pick up the slack of developing open-source software for the new-world software/service markets?

I don't know, which brings me back to my concern about the lack of deep funding in the open-source enterprise markets....

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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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