The next time you see the phrase "open source" used in association with some software, be advised that you'll need to take that claim with a grain of salt. This was a statement made last November by ZDNet blogger David Berlind.

As the concept of Professional Open Source gains momentum and more vendors jump on this boat, its becoming increasingly important to have some reliable indicators of what a real open source effort looks like.

ZDNet's Berlind focused on the licensing aspect and the many non-OSI-sanctioned derivatives of OSI-sanctioned licenses.

In a recent post, blogger Dion Almaer rightly suggests that there is more to open source software than the license or the availability of source code.

According to Mr. Almaer, an open source product in the absence of a diverse community around said product is not truly open source. But how can an open source application provider determine if their community makes the grade? Mr. Almaer provides the following criteria:

  1. If you don't have any committers from outside of your company. You probably aren't community driven.
  2. If you didn't spend time cleaning up documentation for the community when you opened it up. You probably aren't community driven.
  3. If your users haven't helped with the documentation if it is lacking. You probably aren't community driven.
  4. If you do not have some kind of forums/lists where people help each other out. You probably aren't community driven.
  5. If you aren't willing to put in a lot of effort to build your community to get true benefits. You probably aren't community driven.

Obviously a leader who is tuned to these sensibilities Nuxeo CEO, Stefane Fermigier, responded with a blog post of his own where he addresses each of the criteria in turn. Unsurprisingly, but also we believe genuinely, Fermigier finds that Nuxeo Document Management meets or exceeds Almaer's criteria.

In his blog post Fermigier claims that more than 50% of the contributors are non-Nuxeo employees. In a recent conversation with CMSWire he stated that somewhere around 20 to 25% of the "commits" are done by the community. Contributors are one thing, actual commits are another, probably more accurate measure of community energy.

First of all, its commendable that the Nuxeo CEO is responsive in this fashion. Yet as notable as Stefane Fermigier's response is, the content of the post -- particularly the closing paragraph -- is even more important. The key here is Fermigier's focus on what O'Reilly called an Architecture of Participation. To quote:

We have designed the Nuxeo software with the explicit goal of creating an Architecture of Participation [...] Our creation of Nuxeo Runtime, the OSGi-based plugin system (inspired by Eclipse?s), our use of a component framework like JBoss Seam for our webapp, are consequences of this vision, which comes from years of experience working with system integrators and ISV.

Compare Nuxeo's approach to their primary competitor in the open source enterprise content management space, Alfresco, and you will see many similarities but importantly some rather striking differences. Let's take a look: