Intuit and open source: Tastes great, less filling?

Intuit doesn't need to open-source its code to get the benefits of open source, as a new community site demonstrates.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Intuit announced on Monday that it has launched a community site for open-source developers to write open-source SaaS (software as a service) applications that enhance Intuit's own SaaS platform. Glyn Moody derides the move as "a rather feeble attempt to plug into the power of openness without really engaging with it," but this misses the point.

The point is to enhance the value around an already valuable platform (Intuit's software). This isn't just of benefit to Intuit, but also to the third-party developers who contribute. No one wants to write software to sit on a shelf, unused. Coding for Intuit ensures a ready-made audience of small businesses.

What's not to like about that?

IBM's Savio Rodrigues notes that this same effect could have been achieved with a closed-source community site, but he suggests a few reasons open source makes the community site richer:

[B]y using an open source license, Intuit reduces a potential issue for its partners that do sell open source products on top of Intuit's platform. Intuit also makes it easier for its partners to customize the code for their own purposes, something that partners are likely to do. Lastly, the open source license encourages Intuit's ecosystem to contribute their own components and, thereby, helps raise all boats, without having to open source Intuit's core products. It seems like a win-win to me.

Agreed. Intuit clearly "gets" that open source is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Openness helps the company accomplish community and corporate goals. It helps to enrich its partner experience. But it's not a revenue model that the company is embracing.

Some will see this move by Intuit as more about artifice than community, but they will be wrong. The Intuit community stands to benefit greatly from this move. As with Microsoft before it, these Intuit partners are looking for ways to enhance the value of their offerings while building on a winning platform.

Open source helps them to do that, as ZDNet's Sam Diaz points out, while also helping Intuit to increase the value of its platform. It's a win-win situation.

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