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Discussion Point: Does Open Source Encourage and Support Innovation?

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.

Editor's Note: Discussion Point is a new bi-weekly column where we will go out to various industry experts and ask questions focused on current events, and business/technologies strategies being used today. If you have a question that you think would be good to ask or have an opinion to share, drop us an email at

The Question

Innovation is a word that is often misused – but certainly it’s one that many in the Open Source community would agree is common with the idea of “Open Source.” How (if at all) do you think the ideas of Open Source and Open Standards drive innovation? We’d like you to look at it both from an internal product/company development standpoint – and from a customer standpoint. In other words – how does Open Source/Standards help an open source company to innovate – and also how (again if at all) does it help its clients to be innovative?

The Responses

Arje Cahn (CTO) — Hippo

Arjé is CTO and co-founder of Hippo. He is the technical brain behind Hippo CMS, and as CTO keeps a close eye on all technical developments within Hippo. Nothing escapes his attention. He is an elected member of the Apache Software Foundation and committer and member at Apache Cocoon since 2006. Next to that Arjé is now part of a new technical committee as part of OASIS, the open standards consortium. Follow him on Twitter @acahn as well as on his blog (

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

Thierry Delprat joined Nuxeo in 2005 as Chief Technology Officer. As CTO, he guides the architectural development of Nuxeo ECM including the adoption of Java as the platform for innovation. 
Prior to joining Nuxeo, Thierry Delprat worked for over 7 years at Unilog, with progressively senior experience across different branches of the consulting company. Thierry was also a technical architect at Cryo-Networks (infrastructure for online games), and has participated in start-up companies. 
Thierry Delprat graduated from the Ecole Centrale de Nantes and holds a Master of Telecommunications.

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

James Falkner oversees the 65,000-strong open source Liferay Community. In this role, James provides information, education, and leadership development, while encouraging participation and growth of the community. Prior to joining Liferay, James led development of several key technologies in Oracle's Web Center stack. He is an alumnus of Sun Microsystems, where he was the principal architect for Sun's portal technologies, participating in open source projects such as OpenPortal, GlassFish, and Community Equity.

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

As the 5th employee to join Nuxeo, Eric brings a passion and commitment for software like no other, with a penchant for open source and open standards. Having worn almost every hat one could wear at a single company, he’s spent the better part of 11 years dedicated to making a difference in the content management market by creating software for developers with an emphasis on quality, modularity and agility. A hands-on CEO, he loves building the company, working side by side with his entire team, championing this model of open source software development and strategy while ensuring the two remain synchronous. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebarroca and on his Nuxeo blog.

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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