Lou's Views: Zend Philosophy: Finding Another Way
Reevaluating the nature of open source development
An interesting thing happened to me recently during what I expected would be Yet Another Boring Product Briefing, something that could point the way for the marriage of open source and for-profit businesses. The conversation was with Jim Jagielski, U.S. CTO and PHP Evangelist of Zend, a company founded to build products and services on the PHP scripting language. (Apache-philes might recognize Jagielski's name, as he's the Executive V.P. for the Apache Software Foundation.)
To explain what happens requires just a bit of context, though....
So far the open source software adventure, which is still a young and charmingly precocious entity as such things go, has seen no lack of attention paid to the mechanics of development. There's endless talk about how open source projects work to pull together globally-diverse programmers, mostly volunteers, into a distributed development effort. The most obvious example of this attention is Eric Raymond's writings, particularly those collected in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
But there's a lot more to making software useful than the relatively simple act of creating it, of course. In the cold and indifferent real world there are commercial, support, and other concerns that come into play, and these are all areas that the open source community is notoriously weak in addressing. Frankly, without a viable economic model for businesses that can step in and provide these parts of the puzzle, open source is little more than hobbyware or tools for the most expert users and sysadmins. This business side of the equation hasn't had quite as much attention paid to it as has the development side, which is just a natural side effect of open source's relative newness; we had to have something to sell before we could talk about selling it.
I won't spend much time here talking about the various approaches to the business of open source. The main variations are: the pure open source sales model (company makes money by selling software that's completely open source); the open/closed source hybrid (company produces and sells both open and closed source software that works together); the "IBM or Eazel model" (the company spends money to help develop open source in the interest of further other economic goals, like selling more hardware or subscription services); and the software or software-and-support model (the company, e.g. Red Hat, provides paid support for open source software that they may or may not also sell and develop). Whatever your feelings about these models and their economic viability, the good news is that there's no lack of companies out there competing with each other and experimenting with different models. Eventually the market will sort out the contestants and their general approaches and give us some answers (and surprises, no doubt).
Even less attention has been paid to something that I'm convinced is just as important as development procedures, business models, and licenses to the long-term capacity of open source to be useful to the masses: A company's basic philosophy of business and how it determines which products and services to offer. This is where Jim Jagielski and Zend come back into the picture.
Jagielski and I were talking about Zend's announcements today of their new PHP-based products, Zend Cache, Zend Encoder Unlimited, and Zend SOS (Support--Online Services), and how they decided to develop and market those specific items. And that, inevitably, led to an intriguing and refreshing discussion of business philosophy.
(For details of these three products, check the press release here, or see the Zend home page for more details. But if you're reasonably with PHP and software in general, you can generally surmise what the products are based on their names and the very brief description I give below.)
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