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Open Source Software Up the Stack

Dennis Byron

Alfresco wants to make its open source ECM a commodity

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No, let me rephrase that headline. Alfresco wants to make its software THE enterprise content management (ECM) commodity. Scratch the "open source;" Alfresco's open source development model and terms and conditions are a means to an end by which Alfresco becomes a factor in the entire ECM market. Scratch the "a;" it implies Alfresco would be happy sharing the limelight with another supplier.

I met up with Ian Howells, chief marketing officer at Alfresco, recently. The immediate reason for the meeting was to get his input to my Industry-Oriented Open Source Software (OSS) research, an abstract of which has been posted in the features section on ebizQ (Gold Club membership required but there is no cost).

But I took the opportunity to ask Ian two of my standard “Talking to… questions:? How did you get to the open source movement? Where do you think the movement goes next? (My third standard question concerns the company; for more about Alfresco itself, see my Talking to… interview with John Newton posted here, also in the ebizQ features section with all my monthly articles.)

How did you get here? Ian followed an interesting path to OSS and formed his ideas about OSS marketing from that experience. He worked for Ingres, Documentum, and SeeBeyond (now part of Sun). Particularly at Ingres, he saw the way standards solidified the database market and how the standards ended up pointing to an eventual market winner (at least so far it's Oracle but Sun/MySQL would like to change that). In Ian’s opinion, Ingres had a better database product back in the 1980s but Oracle took advantage of the standards situation by pushing SQL, making it a virtual commodity. Ian sees a similar pattern emerging in ECM, where—he believes—both Alfresco and Microsoft (with Sharepoint) will commoditize ECM.

Where are we going? As you can see in the Industry-Oriented OSS article referenced above, Alfresco leaves it to the Alfresco channel and the community to write the ECM applications. OpenQuote, mentioned in the article, is an example. That makes Microsoft Alfresco’s biggest competitor according to Ian Howell because it has such a channel advantage, and so much experience marketing commodity technology. He points out that traditionally a first mover in a market did not have an advantage (and often had a disadvantage). Software markets usually consisted of dozens of competitors. That group was eventually whittled down to two or three. Often first movers ran out of gas before having a chance to make the cut.

However, Ian thinks the open source movement has led to a change in software market dynamics such that the leading open source project in any given category can become a commodity quickly. With open source, Ian believes, a different pattern is emerging. First movers such as JBoss, Linux (and he hopes Alfresco) tend to dominate going forward.

I agree with him but probably because of a different thought process: most open source players are not forming a market themselves but coming in as competitors in existing markets in almost all cases I can think of (web server software is an exception but even now that functionality has merged back into application server sector or back within the operating system with which it works). So Alfresco is not competing on the basis of its open source terms and conditions against other open source ECM products but against the traditional ECM guys (EMC/Documentum, IBM/Filenet, etc.).

I think Ian and I get to the same conclusion by different roads. That's where he says Alfresco and Microsoft have a great advantage because both products are opening up an entirely new ECM opportunity, increasing the number of ECM seats in an enterprise by making ECM dramatically easier to install and use.

And giving Alfresco (and Microsoft) partners a great base on which to build industry-specific ECM applications. Read the artcle if you get a chance; it's published in two parts.

Dennis Byron’s blog on open source software: A longtime market research analyst follows what “the movement? means to business integration—in applications, infrastructure, as services, as architecture and as functionality.

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