The Siren Call of FUD: Should You Listen?

Oct 29

I had a flashback to 2010 this week when I saw a new whitepaper published by Sitecore. It equated open source to a siren call. Jive Software pulled a similar stunt in spring of 2010, attacking open source web content management and social software. It was a marketing #fail and the company rightfully pulled the paper from its site when the hypocrisy of the arguments were revealed.

I hope Sitecore considers the same move.

(Background on the eerily similar Jive fiasco available on Matt Asay’s Open Road and on the Oregonian).

The Jive mea culpa, issued by CTO Mike Tucker was honest and appreciated.

“Frankly, the title was a dumb mistake on our part. I’ve asked the team to take the document down as it’s far too easy to infer a religious war of which we’re simply not a part.

“Setting the record straight: Jive has consistently made substantial Open Source contributions. Examples include the Openfire, Spark and Smack projects as well as the code contributions Jive employees make to several of the open source frameworks we use. There are few movements that have unleashed as much innovation as Open Source and we’re proud of our continuing contributions.”

I was surprised and disappointed that in 2011, this type of competitive FUD is still thrown. The WCM and social media world is run on open source. Bottom line. I wrote about some of this a few weeks ago on Fierce Content Management. Throwing darts in the direction of open source as one big massive software category shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the web works.

Reading the “whitepaper”, it is clear that the attack is directed at one particular competitor. Why that was not simply stated in the title, instead of taking broad brush potshots at decades of cutting edge development, is not clear to me.

Let’s dig in a bit, shall we?

The paper begins with an introductory explanation of how “Open Source is Low-Cost Software with High TCO”, and then proceeds to “debunk” the 3 Myths about Open Source.

The plural of anecdote is not data. Unsubstantiated numbers are thrown around, stating that 5% of a total implementation cost is software, with 95% on support, maintenance and implementation services. Absolutely true that any CMS deployment will have a higher services component than initial license cost. Zero source is cited, nor is there any breakdown of how using an open source CMS resulted in more than double the cost. Just a pie chart.

The paper quickly loses credibility by using the extremely broad brush of “open source CMS”, making general statements that can easily be proved untrue by a serious assessment of the products and projects on the market. There are dozens, if not hundreds out there. But here we learn that “the heart of the problems with open source CMSes: poor documentation, minimal or nonexistent support organizations behind them, no cohesive training and user adoption programs”.

This broad statement is frankly, inaccurate and a load of BS. There are dozens of open source CMS products out there that offer 24/7 top-tier service level agreements, training courses and rich technical documentation (not hidden behind a paywall).

And now for the “Myths”:

Myth #1 – Open Source Applications’ Scalability and Capabilities Are as Good as Commercial Software. The paper quotes a partner, attesting to the “unpredictability of open source” as a killer for budgets, time lines and client satisfaction. Really? When some open source platforms claim to power 15% of websites, and Apache Web server supports nearly 100 million sites (almost 60% of the web per October 2011 stats tracked by Netcraft.com).

This is how we define unpredictability?

Myth #2 – Open Source is Well-Supported by a Community of Developers

Open source community development models have “no accountability”. This is of course substantially untrue, but differs from project to project. Nearly all major projects have some form of vendor backing or strong ecosystem of service providers.These companies invest in code contribution, peer-to-peer support and documentation. Many very large software companies, including IBM, Adobe, SAP, Oracle contribute to open source projects because their development road map depends on it.

In the content management space, many open source projects are vendor backed meaning that support contracts are available for production environments. Nuxeo, eZ Systems, Liferay, Alfresco are just a few I know well. Some of these companies have modeled their business and development models on the billion dollar open source company: Red Hat. Community projects that act as engines of innovation for the resulting downstream solutions, packaged applications, or enterprise editions are common.

Ye olde “one throat to choke” canard is dutifully trotted out. Playing the FUD card as though vendor-backed open source projects and those with strong partner ecosystems don’t know how to pick up a phone. An interesting sidebar quote says that “I have five people at Sitecore who I know would respond to me at two in the morning”. Awesome. Wouldn’t it be cooler to have hundreds of people in every global timezone monitoring help requests and responding through multiple channels? In addition to the 24/7 service level agreements the vendor backed projects already provide?

It’s tough, today, to find even proprietary products that don’t include open source under the covers. Companies that take fire at “open source”are probably shooting their own upstream foundational tools.

Myth #3 – Open Source is Cheaper than Commercial Software.

Open Source software is cheaper than Commercial Software. Because there are no license costs. What is not free when adopting open source tools is the ongoing support, maintenance, services and training. Same things you’d plan for with a proprietary system. Does anyone really plan a production software deployment without budgeting for those recurring costs, regardless of the license agreement of the product selected? The “slippery slope of open source” means radically higher costs, harder implementation and botched environments, according to the paper spokesman. Funny, I see a slippery slope when I hear organizations get a content management project moving quickly, efficiently and without needing to play the game of sales cycle theatre. And then they wonder what other parts of their enterprise IT ecosystem can be shifted to an open source alternative…

That’s my 2 cents. To judge for yourself, download it and let me know your thoughts. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, this unsophisticated perspective of open source development models must be ready to be put to bed.

Ah… the siren call of FUD. Never fails to lure proprietary vendors to shipwreck on the rocky coast of a new competitive world they don’t understand.