Open Source and Innovation are two words you hear often in the content management industry, sometimes in the same sentence. But how exactly does open source encourage innovation? The question was raised with three open source vendors: Hippo, Liferay and Nuxeo. What follows are the responses.
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Arje Cahn (CTO) — Hippo
Innovation comes from Open Standards and Open Source. The ability to bring together different streams of information from disparate content systems using a standardized API is certainly part of our vision for a more contextualized web experience. That in itself is an innovative idea. But it really comes from being so focused on the innovative people that make up the Open Source community and the ones that are driving Open Standards.
At Hippo, this open innovation is what drives us. Through our continued work on the Apache Rave Project — our work on the new WEMI standard and our history of commitment to open standards we are working on trying to make the Web a more contextual and personal experience.
Thierry Delprat (CTO) — Nuxeo
The first point is to define what innovation means in the software area. For me, being innovative in making software can mean:
- new features — provide new features to address new use cases
- new technologies — find a smarter or faster way to solve a technical issue
- Innovation by addressing new use cases
Because each open source software user is also a citizen of the community, he has the possibility to give feedback about how he wants to use the software in his very own context.
It's true at the community level, but it's also true for every integration project; SIs developing code for a given project have the possibility to share part of their custom code so that the underlying platform benefit from it.
This makes open source software evolve faster and address earlier new use cases.
Innovation by Technologies
Let's take a very simple example. Somewhere on the planet, a genius developer finds a brand new way to solve a technical issue: his solution is faster or smarter than any other existing one.
If this genius wrote his code inside a proprietary software, the spread scope of this innovation will be small, at least from a global perspective. The innovation will benefit the company, but outside of this scope, all other developers won't have access to this innovation, they may even not be aware of this innovation.
On the contrary, if this innovation was part of an open source project and visible on code sharing sites like GitHub or GoogleCode, then the impact will be much bigger. More people will find out that this innovation exists and will leverage it.
The initial innovation will be bigger because:
- there will be people contributing improvements
- there will be people reusing the code or the idea in other software
So, to answer the initial question, I would say that open source and open standards drive innovation mainly because they help people work together in the same direction, leveraging work from each other. Rather than having everyone reinvent the wheel on his side, open source projects and open standards allow people to share their ideas and work power.
I really see open source as a pragmatic optimization of the software development process because:
- it makes the software better
- it makes the software evolve faster.
James Falkner, Community Manager — Liferay
Main question: How (if at all) do you think the ideas of Open Source and Open Standards drive innovation? Open development models allows all developers, regardless of location or employer, to contribute innovation. Engineers are by their very nature willing to volunteer and contribute by using their hard-won and unique talents. When an environment is cultivated that makes it easy to contribute, easy to benefit from others' contributions, and with a feedback system that rewards and recognizes valuable contributions, innovation is guaranteed. This is the environment that the Liferay Community strives to achieve and maintain.
In addition to this, open innovators inherently desire to see their creations benefit as many people as possible, and this has a domino effect on other potential contributors who see the ability to reach a large audience, resulting in a continuous wave of innovation. The web itself is built on open standards, and paves the way for open source innovation to happen anywhere, at any time.
How do Open Source/Standards help an open source company to innovate? Companies built on open source naturally benefit when the quality, level of features, and amount of innovation in the open source product improve, but this can apply equally to proprietary software companies. The difference is that when companies are built on open source, the entire community can help contribute to the success of the product, which drives more and more people to consider it as an open source solution, and results in larger communities and even more innovation, forming a positive feedback loop.
In addition to open source, open standards provide another important leveling function for open source and proprietary vendors. This drives innovation within companies that support open source and open standards, in order to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
How (again if at all) does it help its clients to be innovative? Open technology helps clients tremendously — and not just on their bottom lines. Typical open technology licenses permit client companies to use open tools to create new products and services, essentially mashups of open stacks that would be impossible (or very expensive) with proprietary licensing. Cloud computing infrastructure is one such example: it grew out of open stacks of LAMP components sewn together by innovative companies.
Open technology itself also evolves very quickly, which in turn drives its adopters to stay closer to the leading edge, and learn new techniques to solve their business problems.
Eric Barroca (CEO) — Nuxeo
Open source enables collaboration across organizations in a simple way. Essentially, it is a legal framework, with a common set of rules, for developers to share code so they can collaborate on a large scale. Innovation comes from collaboration. You rarely innovate alone, especially in software. In the software world, open source enables collaboration among very large, geographically dispersed groups of developers with a common interest.
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