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Meet the New Kingmakers: Same as the Old Kingmakers

With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
– Abraham Lincoln

This has been true in the technology world for longer than most realize. Far longer. This was never more apparent to me than it was on August 11th, during Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester’s presentation at LinuxCon. Entitled “OSS Adoption Patterns In Enterprise IT,” it was data driven, solidly argued and professionally delivered – Hammond is an excellent speaker. What the presentation was not, at least from a RedMonk perspective, was news. Which is to be expected, I suppose, as Forrester is from Mars, RedMonk is from Venus. We see things that differently.

The gist of the session comes in the text on slide 3: “When it comes to Enterprise IT adoption, Open Source Has ‘Crossed the Chasm’.” In support of this conclusion, Hammond employs a dizzying array of quantitative metrics derived from three surveys; two from Forrester (Enterprise And SMB Software Survey, North America And Europe, Q408/09 / Dr. Dobbs Developer Technographics Q309) and one from the Eclipse Foundation (2009/2010 Eclipse Community Survey). Besides the metrics, there are models (the software “iron triangle”) explaining mechanisms of OSS adoption, case studies of current users and best practices for would be users. While I might quibble with bits and pieces of the analysis, on balance it’s both thorough and excellent.

My question is why it’s necessary. In a sense, this seems akin to the study proving that drugs and alcohol are bad for you: many of us accept the above as a given.

Think big picture. Consider, for a moment, the component pieces of the venerable LAMP stack. Linux is the de facto alternative to Windows on the server and Apple in mobile, Apache is powering nearly sixty percent of the world’s websites, MySQL is the most popular relational database on the planet – important enough to hold up Oracle’s acquisition, and as for the dynamic languages, well, even Microsoft has been compelled to pimp them. Open source has so thoroughly transitioned to the mainstream, in fact, that some projects are exhibiting symptoms typical to mature businesses [coverage].

None of Linux, Apache, MySQL, or PHP rose to prominence because of CIOs, IT managers, or even analysts such as Hammond or myself. As the FAQ on mentions, incidentally. Billy Marshall perhaps put it best when he said that the CIO is the last to know. The LAMP stack became popular because developers made it so.

Why? Barriers to entry, primarily. Here’s how Hammond put it in an interview with Jennifer Cloer of the Linux Foundation:

[Cloer]: You recently found that a new generation of developers is choosing to deploy web and enterprise apps on Linux. Why?

Hammond: It comes down to barriers of adoption. As a developer you can download a LAMP stack or Spring and Tomcat and start work, or you can wrangle with purchasing for eight weeks and try to get the licenses you need. Developers generally don’t like spending time sitting on their hands waiting for purchasing agents to make them jump through hoops; they’d rather write code.

We concur. Here’s how we put it, five years ago this month, in a piece entitled “It’s All About Barriers to Entry“:

Available Code: This isn’t necessarily about source code per se, although that’s related, but rather removing the barrier to entry for potential users of your application. I’m often asked what I believe to be the most critical success factor in projects such as JBoss or MySQL, and while the technical merits are important I believe that neither one of those projects would be where they are today without being freely downloadable. In competing with their commercial counterparts, JBoss and MySQL can differentiate simply by being easily obtained. When beginning a project, the choice is often download and get coding or head to procurement, and unsurprisingly the former is generally the preferred option. While this is certainly not a prerequisite for success, it’s a very effective means of encouraging participation in your particular community, because there’s no barrier to entry.

When developers no longer need procurement, the process of technology adoption shifts fundamentally and, likely, permanently. This power shift is presumably part of what led Hammond to tell the audience “Congratulations, you’re on the winning team.” It is certainly, however, what led me to tell the developers at OSCON the same thing during my keynote in 2006 [PDF].

How did Forrester arrive at virtually the same conclusions we did, all these years later? It’s a function of the constituencies we each focus on, I suspect.

RedMonk, remember, is from Venus. We are founded upon the idea that developers are the single most important constituency in technology. Open source dramatically lowers the barriers to adoption, such that developers may build upon what they want rather than what they’re given. There are exceptions, of course: Oracle’s continued success is but the most obvious. Red Hat, however, would not be a $750 million dollar business without the bottom up adoption of Linux. Google might not exist at all. This is the power of open source, and this has been clear to us for the better part of a decade. As far as we’re concerned, open source crossed the chasm years ago. We know this because the developers we track proved it to us.

Forrester, being from Mars, is far more enterprise and CIO oriented, as are most of the large shops. Enterprises, understandably see the world through a different lens than developers. A mainstream role for open source is certain to be less of a fait accompli in the mind of the business than the individual. Particularly because those businesses are likely still unaware of the systemic usage of open source within their own organization. For that audience, this presentation is news.

Which brings us back to Hammond’s deck. The statistical portion of the presentation consists of 14 slides, 6-19. Of these, seven – 6-9 and 12-14 – are entirely based on the Enterprise And SMB Software Survey study, while slide 11 is half that one and half a second Forrester survey. The remaining slides are half Eclipse data and half the second survey. What this means is that the Enterprise and SMB Software Survey represents the majority of the quantitative data used in the presentation. What audience does that survey represent? “Primarily Directors, VP App Dev, VP I&O, CIO.” The same constituency that is the last to know about technology adoption in their organization.

Whether the businesses that Forrester surveyed are late to realize the ascendance of open source is, ultimately, academic. The news here isn’t that the “new king-makers,” as Savio put it, look a lot like the old kingmakers: developers.

The news is that management may finally be realizing it.

Categories: Open Source.

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