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Getting open-source criticism wrong

Demandware tries to smear Magento and the open-source world, but gets its criticisms wrong due to an outdated view of what open source means.

It's increasingly difficult to separate "open-source vendors" from "proprietary vendors," but Demandware, a proprietary software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor, is attempting to do so in an effort to stem the rising tide of Magento, an open-source e-commerce project. Demandware's criticism of Magento largely falls flat, however, because it uses outdated descriptions of open source.

Demandware walks through a litany of complaints about open source--requires too many developers! forces you to upgrade your software all by yourself! forking and fragmentation!--but none hit the mark. Why? Because each is only somewhat accurate of the state of open source 10 years ago. As a critique of open source today, and specifically of Magento, Demandware's criticisms fall short.

There is a big difference between community open source and commercial open source, not to mention a diverse array of quality even within the "community" or "commercial" open-source areas. Some of Demandware's critiques might be true of certain community-led open-source projects, but they seem wildly off-base for any of the more popular projects, including Magento.

Unfortunately for Demandware, it turns out that open-source vendors care just as much about quality, stability, performance, etc. as proprietary vendors do. The difference is that open-source vendors shift the risk of deployment onto themselves rather than foisting it onto customers.

Equally unfortunate for Demandware, most of the leading open-source projects are increasingly under vendor guidance and control, as Gartner finds. This means that Demandware's complaints are relevant only to a dwindling population of open-source projects.

What's particularly ironic (and a bit galling) is that Demandware, after spending so much time criticizing open source, then goes on to describe its own software source:

Much of our software stack--operating system, application servers, etc.--is open source. But we build a commercial SaaS platform on top of it and do all the heavy lifting for our customers.

How interesting. This sounds much like the model that Varien, the company behind Magento, uses. In fact, it describes the commercial open-source business model: give away a free and open-source version of the software but then charge customers for additional packaging, support, etc.

Fortunately, prospective customers of Demandware don't need to take the company's word for it on Magento. As open source, they can download it for free to see if it works for them. The same cannot be said for Demandware. If you're interested in evaluating Demandware, it appears that you've got just one choice: contact the company and let it start the sales machine:

Demandware sales model: Heavy on people

Apparently Magento is good enough to sell itself. But you won't hear that from the Demandware sales representative.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.