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Marc Fleury starts an open-source home automation project

Can Marc Fleury compete with a better entrenched rival? Perhaps.

It's good to see Marc Fleury go public with his new project, an open-source home automation project (not yet a company) called OpenRemote. We had talked about it back at Open Source Goat Rodeo 2008, but he seemed to be taking his time to actually release something.

The problem that I see with this idea? We already have an excellent Linux-based home automation company called Control4.

Control4 was started years ago by a pair of serial entrepreneurs, Will West and Eric Smith. That broadband in your hotel? They are almost certainly the ones who put it there (iBahn).

I used to be involved with Control4 during my time as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Thomas Weisel Venture Partners, an investor in Control4. The company was doing fantastically well back then (2003/2004), and I'm betting it has easily cleared $100 million in sales by now, and has signed up every major distributor and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) one can imagine.

This is a very, very well-run company. Is there room for an open-source competitor?

Perhaps. Remember, however, that Control4 is also based on open source. The company understands and leverages the cost and development advantages inherent in Linux. What, then, would OpenRemote bring to the table?

Perhaps a community taking the OpenRemote reference implementation to different hardware? Or that same community improving the software?

In most cases, these wouldn't be compelling arguments as the reality of open source is that most projects do not get considerable outsize activity. OpenRemote, however, may be different because, like Linux, it is an infrastructure-level project that developers may view as a fun and personally useful challenge that compels their investment of time and aptitude. This, coupled with the rock stars behind the project (Fleury and Asterisk pioneer Mark Spencer), could well foment an open-source community revolution.

So, consider Control4 the Apple of home automation: Based on open source but layered with proprietary software. Could OpenRemote become the Ubuntu of open-source home automation?

We shall see.