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How open source speeds development...the Zipidy example

An oft-overlooked benefit of open source is how it speeds development, even for those who don't contribute back.

I spent some time today talking with Cosimo Sperais, CEO of Zipidy. Zipidy provides an interesting mobile solution that currently helps end-users find and pay for parking (the technology, however, has uses well beyond parking). Funny enough, the company was born from Cosimo's problem one day in finding parking in San Francisco.

While Zipidy's platform will allow the deployment of any service for the mobile customers, in this first phase Zipidy is focusing only to support and deploy services that are categorized as "info mobility," and specifically a wireless closed loop parking solution that is designed to provide substantial incremental value to all core parking participants: End-Users, municipalities (making it a lot cheaper to collect parking fees, rather than sending out parking fee collection agents), and merchants. The solution supports all forms of parking mechanisms, including On/Off street meters, gated garages, permit driven spaces and parking lots.

While I find the parking solution interesting (and, yes, I've had the same problem finding parking in San Francisco), I wanted to hear how open source helps a company like Zipidy, which is not in itself an open-source company. The answer was interesting:

We developed our solution over an open-source framework called Leap JADE, a Java software framework that simplifies the implementation of multi-agent systems. Our application server is JBoss and our database is MySQL, which we support ourselves.

Why not use proprietary software to do this same thing?

The major principle that drives our use of open source is speed. Things in open source happen faster and sooner than in proprietary software.

Importantly, this is a factor of my speed as much as the project's speed. With open source (JBoss, for example) I can extend the project to fit my requirements. With a proprietary product I have to put in a request to the company for it to make the changes for me, which it may never do, or which it may take years for it to do.

If you are doing cutting-edge technology, you will often find that no products - open source or proprietary - meet your needs 100%. But the difference is that with open source you can extend the product to fit your needs. In a proprietary world, you're stuck with the vendor's product, as well as its priorities and roadmap.

This is an oft-overlooked benefit of open source to those in the technology world. Open source gives such developers a huge pool of code to draw from, rather than forking over fees and freedom to a third-party software company.

The only area that I really disagree with Cosimo is in his own thinking around licensing. I asked whether the company has plans to open source its own technology, given how much it benefits from other open-source software. The answer? Maybe, but not yet:

We'd like to gain market share before we further consider open sourcing our own technology.

As I've written before, I think this is the wrong way to think about open source. Open source is a great way to gain that market share. It's a way of fueling adoption. It shouldn't be an afterthought - something you do once you've "made it."

Still, I wish Zipidy well. Cosimo clearly grasps how open source can help speed his development process. The City of San Francisco is currently piloting Zipidy's product. Soon, you may be parking more easily because of open source. Just be sure to contribute back to say thanks. :-)