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Open Source vs. Proprietary Software: There is No Clear Winner

Open Source Software versus ProprietaryEveryone loves the promise of Open Source Software (OSS). It’s free (or almost free); it’s built by passionate communities of developers; you can “look under the hood”; and there’s no vendor lock-in. Add to that, that the rate of innovation is supposed to be faster with OSS — why would anyone choose to work with anything else? 

After talking with Tom Wentworth, Chief Marketing Officer of Acquia, "the Drupal Company,” I asked myself this question over and over again. After all, he revealed that the Drupal Community has built more than 20,000 modules; the Drupal site says that the project has more than 27,000 developers and 650 distributions — pretty impressive, right? OSS is the only way to go, Wentworth said, though I’m not sure he used exactly those words.

He also spoke highly of Alfresco, an OSS Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Platform, that works well with Acquia’s “expertly curated” versions of Drupal. Wentworh made it sound like Open Source rules in the ECM world too.

Could it really be that the days of Proprietary Software in the Web CMS and Enterprise CMS Worlds are over (and that I somehow didn’t notice)?

OSS vs. Proprietary in ECM/IM - What The Analysts Say

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management lists EMC Documentum, Hyland Software, IBM, Microsoft and OpenText in the “Leaders" quadrant. They are all proprietary vendors. OSS Alfresco falls short of what the aforementioned vendors have to offer; it’s in the "visionaries" quadrant.

In its evaluation, Gartner says that while Alfresco’s OSS status won it some appeal a few years ago, that isn’t the case any more. “The notion of open source itself, however, is becoming less of a differentiator in the content management market,” says the report.

Other analysts pretty much concur with Gartner: Forrester lists EMC Documentum, IBM, OpenText and Oracle as leaders, with Microsoft Sharepoint making its way into the highest part of the wave. Ovum’s most recent report lists EMC, IBM and OpenText as leaders.

OSS vs. Proprietary Software - Whose Code is Better?

There’s only one source to go to when you talk about code quality: Coverity, a leader in software development testing. “OSS or Proprietary, which has the fewest problems?” I asked Zach Samocha, Coverity’s Senior Director Product Management.

It depends, he answered, referring to the results of Coverity’s Scan report which reveals that the quality of OSS vs. Proprietary barely differs (defect densities are .69 vs. .68 respectively). Factor in the number of lines of code and, in general, when the number exceeds 1 million, proprietary rules. (To figure out lines of code in an OSS project , go to Alfresco, according to the site, has 2.06 million lines of code. Drupal, the open source CMS platform, has 970,000.

I asked Samocha why OSS quality drops when the number of lines of code increases. “In a big project, you can’t make the assumption that developer talent is enough. You need to have tools in place, you need infrastructure, machines — not all OSS projects have the budget,” he said.

While I don’t know what commercial OSS vendor budgets look like, I will say this: the fact that Alfresco is both OSS and a for-profit company, and that Drupal is supported by for-profit entities like Acquia, there is likely to be money available. However, these services aren’t free; so what one might assume to be “free” or inexpensive because it’s OSS might cost more than expected.

OSS vs. Proprietary In Web Content Management - What the Analysts Say

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for WCM leaders lists Oracle, Adobe, SDL, Sitecore and Ektron. They all create and sell proprietary WCM software. It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be displaced by other vendors, proprietary or OSS, anytime soon.

As Barb Mosher said when she reported on the Leaders late last year, “the game (in WCM) is still the same and the established players have all the equipment necessary to play it.”

It is worth noting though that Acquia made it into Gartner’s Visionaries Quadrant for the first time this year.


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