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Winner takes all in open source: The MySQL example

First-mover advantage may well be insurmountable in open source.

Dave Rosenberg once wrote that the winner in a given open-source category (ERP, CRM, etc.) takes all. There's no room for second place. The first mover to get critical mass tends to horde the community and media resources.

I didn't believe Dave at the time, but after looking through the data from Alfresco's Open Source Barometer survey, I'm becoming more and more convinced.

The Barometer now comprises a data set of 35,000 enterprises, a significant percentage of which hail from the Global 2000. In the case of open-source databases, these enterprises are overwhelmingly voting for MySQL, as Ian Howells writes:

As the previous Open Source Barometer showed, in open source at each level of the stack there is a clear leader. If you say open source linux, database, app server, enterprise content management, crm most people will be pushed to come back with more than one name. For open source database that name is MySQL.

The numbers speak for themselves, with 60 percent of the 35,000-strong Alfresco community running MySQL.

Alfresco's Open Source Barometer

It would be easy to discount these results if these were no-name mom-and-pop SMBs, but they're not. Alfresco's customers include Kaplan, Electronic Arts, US Federal Aviation Administration, Boise Cascade, and a wide swath of the world's largest financial services, media, education, and government organizations. 60 percent of which are happily running MySQL.

I'll be posting more data from the most recent Open Source Barometer report tomorrow, but in the meantime it's worth considering the what's at stake in coming in second place. It may well be the difference between $1 billion or nothing.

That said, I don't think it's all doom and gloom for everyone but the front-runner. Instead, I think it's clear that the "also-rans" need to run a different race. Their community outreach must differ from that of the front-runner. Their go-to-market strategy needs to differ, too. Basically, they need to find a different way to sell their products, and to different types of customers, than the front-runner has chosen.