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The coming two-horse race: Open source vs. Proprietary X

Good marketing removes the clutter from a market. Savvy open-source companies will focus on one big proprietary competitor and suck the mindshare from everyone else.

I had breakfast with Scott Switzer, CTO of OpenX, in New York yesterday, and spoke at Dave Rosenberg's MuleSource conference today, where I had the chance to talk with Dave, Larry Augustin, and others from the open-source world. One thing seems fairly clear to me:

Done right, most open-source companies face a two-horse race: the leading open-source vendor against the leading proprietary vendor.

Reality is not so clean, of course. There are still a range of leftover incumbents from software's heady days of big license fees, which will endure for some time. But these are easy fodder for the big proprietary companies to either mow down or acquire, and for open-source companies to undermine on their way to market penetration.

Good marketing leaves just two competitors standing. The reality is that there will be one (or, at most, two) strong open-source offerings duking it out with one (or, at most, two) strong proprietary offerings. Every time someone talks up Tibco in an article, you want the journalist remembering that MuleSource is on its heels. The same is true for all open-source projects.

With this in mind, here are some of the leading match-ups:

  • MuleSource vs. Tibco
  • Alfresco vs. Microsoft Sharepoint (I'd list Documentum or Interwoven but in all honesty, those wars are lost. Sharepoint is the only serious competition in the content management/collaboration market)
  • Pentaho or JasperSoft vs. Business Objects / Cognos (SAP/IBM)
  • SugarCRM vs.
  • Red Hat vs. Microsoft Windows (though Novell is showing renewed life)
  • MySQL/Sun vs. Oracle
  • Loopfuse vs. Eloqua (or perhaps Omniture)
  • OpenX vs. Google
  • JBoss/Red Hat vs. Oracle (or IBM?)

  • Etc.

There are others, but you get the picture. Things will become even more interesting once we see new markets that grow up as open source or SaaS. I believe the social networking market, pioneered by Ning on the SaaS side and Ringside Networks on the open-source side, is one such market. They will borrow heavily from each other's playbooks and will be much harder to quash as a result.

Customers will be the beneficiaries. It's good to be thinking about them again.

Disclosure: I am an advisor to Loopfuse, SugarCRM, JasperSoft, and MuleSource, and work for Alfresco.