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 [email protected]

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.

Open standards are a way to standardize technology to speak the same language, helping people work together. This happens after innovation, once a technology has matured.

Think of GitHub, a web-based hosting service for software development projects. It offers free accounts for open source projects. GitHub hosts over a million people collaborating on code, playing with ideas, trying stuff, inventing things. Open source lets you crowd source innovation in software. That’s why people use it. If you look at all the innovation in web app development and frameworks, like HTML5, the server side technology linked to that is fully open source. In general, the technology that is advancing today’s applications is open source.

Open source has moved far beyond an isolated playground into the mainstream. Several of the most robust, widely used software components in today’s enterprises -- the Spring Framework, Eclipse, Apache Tomcat -- are built on an open source development model. Open source powers the core infrastructure of the Internet: routers, name servers, email servers. All companies rely on these components, or other open source software, every day.

For Nuxeo, open source lets our customers work together in their own community and work with us. They can experiment, and share knowledge. That’s how you innovate -- by collaborating. We have examples of customers who have tried new things and created innovative features, which they contributed back to the product, creating value for everybody. That’s innovation.

Bryan Cheung (CEO) -- Liferay

Bryan Cheung is CEO and co-founder of  Liferay, Inc., the world's leading open source provider of enterprise portal platforms. Drawing on his passion for innovation and open source development philosophies for technology and business, Bryan steers the company's strategic direction and worldwide business development efforts. Bryan graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Computer Science, and is a sought-after keynote speaker at major IT and open source industry events.

Main question: How (if at all) do you think the ideas of Open Source and Open Standards drive innovation? Open source drives innovation by allowing product ideas, use cases and business requirements to come in from a more diverse set of sources than with proprietary software. Because open source software is freely downloadable and modifiable, enterprising users will put open source software into situations not originally envisioned by the main authors. Also, because of the low cost of acquisition, the range of the types of companies (large and small, across industries, for-profit and not-for-profit) that use and drive the product's development is quite diverse.

Open standards drive innovation by reducing the amount of redundant development that takes place. Many parties are often trying to solve similar or related problems, which often involve interfacing with other systems. Open standards ensure that development resources are not used for re-inventing the wheel. This allows teams to invest more of their people and budgets toward solving unique business problems rather than working on the plumbing.

How do Open Source/Standards help an open source company to innovate? Besides the reasons above, open source and open standards force open source companies to innovate because they cannot lean on proprietary licensing or cryptic interfaces to drive revenue. Users of open source software are not locked in to commercial vendors -- they can just choose to engage or disengage the companies behind open source products at anytime. This means open source companies must continue to develop the product or innovate value-added services whose value reflects the money invested by their customers.

How (again if at all) does it help its clients to be innovative? As alluded to before, open source and open standards allow clients to focus on their proprietary or specific business needs and areas of domain knowledge or competitive advantage. A greater proportion of the costs associated with developing the underlying foundations of software and its interfaces has already been shared across a wide community. Therefore, each client can reserve more of their budget for innovation.

The philosophy and mindset of open source communities also helps companies understand how they can unlock the latent value of their ecosystems, whether it's product knowledge held by their customers, product ideas from partners, or business process improvements suggested by employees. Some of the methodology of open source software development (de-centralization, peer review, crowdsourcing) can be applied equally to non-software business processes to release creativity and value a company may not have previously taken advantage of.

Jeroen Verberg (CEO) -- Hippo

Jeroen is CEO of Hippo, and is responsible for Hippo's open source strategy as one of the co-founders. Under his leadership Hippo has grown from 3 founders to an organization with over 70 employees, and offices in Boston, Amsterdam and Singapore. In 2009, 2008 and 2007 Hippo was among the 500 fastest growing technology companies in Europe. Follow Jeroen on Twitter @jverberg as well as on his blog (

The big innovation and benefit of Open Source software is not the reduced license costs per se, but the flexibility it brings.

The Commercial Open Source model may, at its surface, seem like the “junior version” of buying proprietary software. But if your procurement process treats it that way, you miss out on a number of advantages for your organization. The real value of today’s Commercial Open Source is the inherent flexibility and freedom. This freedom allows you to reduce time-to-market, enables you to create more innovative business driven solutions and lowers Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

In today’s enterprise environments, software systems need to be integrated, fine-tuned and adapted to meet demands of the business users and hardened to ensure security. Sometimes the extension points (called APIs) suffice, but more often they don’t. The one big challenge with closed-source proprietary solutions is that you are not allowed to change the software. Bottom line: you are not allowed to see how it works or customize it to fit the unique needs of your business users, validate security or optimize the performance.

Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer (CMO) -- Hippo

Tjeerd is one of the founders of Hippo. Before founding Hippo, Tjeerd worked as a successful consultant for companies such as KPMG, ProjectX and Fource Consulting. He founded Hippo in 1999 to help organizations & governments to communicate with their audiences. Having worn almost every hat one could wear at a single company Tjeerd nowadays handles all Marketing activities within Hippo. Loving it to spread the Hippo love around the globe. Follow him on Twitter @tbrenninkmeijer as well as on his blog (

The WCM market is the main focus area for companies trying to transform their business to become more customer focused. From a static brochure the web has transformed into a business platform to engage with customers. Therefore particularly in WCM, open source yields some of the greatest innovation.

As our CEO Jeroen says ,the big benefit of Open Source software is not the reduced license costs per se, but the flexibility it brings. And this is an incredibly important innovative tool for businesses that are looking to innovate new ways to engage their customers. With open source interoperability and connectivity with existing infrastructure and platforms is easier to achieve. The liberty to adapt the software to the demands from business users is an inherent feature. The Commercial Open Source model gives you the best of both worlds: the Quality-of-Service and security of professional support and the flexibility and freedom of Open Source. By empowering enterprises and putting them back in the driver’s seat, commercial open source helps drive down the costs and be more competitive at the same time.

Paul Hinz (CMO) -- Liferay

Paul Hinz is the Chief Marketing Officer for Liferay, Inc., and heads the company's product positioning, marketing and sales strategies. Before Liferay, Mr. Hinz led strategies for Java EE and the GlassFish Portfolio product lines and was Sun Microsystems' strategist for portals and collaboration. He has held multiple positions within Sun Microsystems, Netscape, OSI, Hewlett-Packard, the California Department of Transportation Research Laboratory and the U.S. Air Force. Follow him on Twitter: @paulhinz.

How do Open Source/Standards help an open source company to innovate?

  • Open Community Prioritization: Open source projects can be either open or closed community. The difference is based on if the community is allowed to help contribute to code and/or roadmap decisions. Open community projects benefit from an increasing number of technical users and developers who are using the actual project for real world scenarios. They know the limitations, they also experience first hand the demands for new capabilities. Open community projects are forced to listen to their community and along with the community, prioritize which demands are most important. In contrast, many closed source products will focus on the demands from a select few large/important/strategic customers. Those customers are important as they often provide the lion's share of revenue, but they more often than not are the cause of the slow down in innovation for most products because the demands take a product down a bunny trail of one customers demands rather than what the general industry wants. Open source, open community projects are different, they have to work to fulfill the demands across a vastly larger set of sources because they are not tied to a select few mega funders. This insures the priorities are based on what the broader ecosystem desires and increases the number of innovations that are made available.
  • Defacto vs industry standards. Defacto standards are quickly becoming more important than industry standards. This is partially due to the fact that defacto standards (those that are generally accepted as the most useful) are not manipulated by a select few companies in order to benefit their products (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, etc), but are generally a well respected implementation solving a common demand. Open source allows defacto standards to proliferate easier than when implemented in a proprietary product. Defacto standards thus are allowing a more rapid growth in innovation in open source, because these standards allow open source projects to capture more interest from developers, other projects and the industry as a whole.
  • Innovations from Outside. The most obvious answer, but I've listed third, is that open source projects allow a broad range of people to contribute innovative features to the collective community. Proprietary products, even those that are originally very innovative, have a common problem. As the product team grows, the original team becomes the most senior people within the team, and are more reticent to implement new ideas from new members. This means the percentage of individuals contributing to the final product directions become smaller and smaller over time. Alternatively, successful open source projects grow community members over time allowing a growing percentage of people to contribute innovative ideas which are acted upon. Additionally, community member activity can be sporadic while proprietary products hire long term employees. This means a person could begin work with an open source project, can learn a need, can contribute an innovation and then move on to something else. Alternatively, a proprietary product hires a limited number of developers who are then expected to contribute over time. Given the proprietary product has limited funds, they have a limited number of individuals contributing over time, while an open source project could have an infinite number of possible resources.

How (again if at all) does it help its clients to be innovative?

  • Open source is ... open source code. I have heard many engineers say things like, "...yeah, and you know how painful it is to work with Microsoft stuff." This is because while Microsoft does have API's to many capabilities, it is very difficult to learn how to use them. They are often undocumented, and even if documented, the actual logic for the interface is unknown so if your integration does not work as documented there is no way to look at the source code to see how it really works. Open source allows customers to learn more about what they could do with the given project code and allows them a vastly broader capability to innovate.
  • Community Affinity. Clients that use open source, can often contribute back to the same community their innovations. As long as the code isn't a competitive advantage, many developers will work to contribute to the open source community with whom they have developed a close relationship. This means the community gets innovations, but it also means the developer will work harder to innovate for their company because they can contribute those innovations back allowing them more credibility in the developer community.
  • The ecosystem. Open source projects often have a much broader ecosystem of ancillary products or integrations to other enterprise software and / or are much easier to integrate to other enterprise software. Because open source projects are considered "neutral" competitors, many companies will build integrations to them in order to make their customers happy. If an integration is not available, enterprises who have various proprietary products and wish to integrate them to open source projects, have a much easier time convincing the proprietary product companies to build that integration. This contributes to a much larger ecosystem and a much easier to grow ecosystem for clients which allows the enterprise an easier way to innovate across their entire enterprise.

Roland Benedetti (VP Products & Marketing) -- Nuxeo

With a passion for technology and a track record for success, Roland brings his extensive knowledge and multi-disciplinary approach with Open Source ECM to the world of Nuxeo. As the former VP of Product Management at eZ Systems, he’s developed, implemented, and pioneered subscription based economic models that have successfully monetized Content Management technologies, adhering to his belief that marketing efforts must be measurable and product design, user centric. Follow Roland on Twitter @rolandbenedetti as well as on his blog.

In my opinion, from whichever window you look at it -- vendor, customer, system integrator -- definitely one of the main benefits of an Open Source development model and of Open Standards is to encourage and facilitate innovation.

Everybody knows that nothing anymore is invented “from scratch” in an insulated lab by insulated researchers who are not in touch with the outside world. Everything is about reusing, repurposing, reengineering, especially in the field of Information Technology. This is not new, and we didn’t invent this with computing technologies, but it is definitely accelerating with the Web!

So how does this help to innovate concretely? Very simple: by streamlining many of the tasks that are involved in innovations: understanding how things work, modifying things that don’t work, sharing things with others.

More concretely: let’s say you are a Nuxeo customer, with a passionate and dedicated internal development team that tries to find new ways to fulfill the new requirements coming from the business. Software can never be so good that it anticipates all requirements and serves them perfectly. If the development team has a way to open up the software, see how it works and how it’s made, and understand how to talk to it using open standards, they can come more quickly and easily with innovative solutions to fulfill the needs for their specific use case.

More than that, if they are into what they do, and if their requirements might be interesting for others, they might contribute their changes back, or part of them. The open source development model encourages them to interact with others involved in the project, so they can develop new ideas about solving their problems. Open source also makes maintenance and future software evolutions easier because of the transparent access to the technology and because the maintenance effort can be shared. Innovation often comes from evolution more than revolution. This is very concretely about innovation, driven by real customer needs, and it happens all the time in Open Source projects!

Final Thoughts

Open source breeds innovation, this view is well discussed by three vendors, from three different perspectives. But do you agree with them? Does open source really offer more opportunities for innovation over proprietary systems? Take the time to put forth your perspective in the comments below.