April 19, 2006

Open Source Developers: The New Customer/Partner

To many of us in the world of Linux and open source, it seemed pretty clear that open source development and the democratization of software - not to mention commoditization - was turning software as product development into a 2-way street. The trend was away from nice snazzy development kits that software vendors would release every 6 months and transforming into open development processes. This required giving something of value to prospective developers in the hopes that they would find a vendor's software compelling enough to contribute to its development, whether in the form of QA, documentation, bug reports, or in a small number of cases, writing actual code. This new 2-way street forced vendors to rethink their 3rd party development strategy, because simply viewing developers as consumers wasn't going to cut it. To remain competitive, vendors had to develop communities and ecosystems, partner with individuals outside the company, and generally convert their entire development process into an SOA.

This is not an easy process, and it has taken some time. Some companies got it much sooner than others, Red Hat being the prime example of the company that got it before many and is actually able to turn a profit. Without naming names, others are still lagging and one wonders if they're going to make it. It seems as though this process has turned a corner in the last year, and you can tell simply by the language used by woftware vendors. In the past, many commercial vendors have remarked that their #1 target audience was enterprise IT, both management and systems engineers, because they were the ones buying product, and it was easy to justify investing in marketing campaigns designed to reach that audience. What about developers? Oh, they were ok, vendors shrugged, but they're not going to buy much.

But things have suddenly changed and developers are no longer simply "tolerated". In the case of LinuxWorld, we're hearing from an unprecedented number of exhibitors that they want to work with us to find more developers. Almost overnight, software vendors have come to realize that in order to maintain a competitive advantage, they've got to have 3rd party developers, and they have to support an ecosystem around their platforms. If they don't succeed, developers will go elsewhere, and then the vendors have to spend enough on R&D to counter the armies of software guerillas working with and for the competition - for free. Hence the need to view independent developers as partners. And the companies that will succeed will be the ones that develop the most vibrant ecosystems, attracting open source developers, companies, and anyone else that benefits from access to the software. I went through much of the underpinnings of this process in my "There is no Open Source Community" article, and while it's still too early to say I told you so, it's certainly heading in that direction.

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