Yesterday I met up with Brian Gentile, the CEO of JasperSoft. He's relatively new to the job, although not new to the company, since he was already on its board for some time. It was striking that much of our conversation was about marketing and management, and that's probably a fair reflection of why Gentile's there: he's been brought in essentially to take that little old open source startup to the next level – and that means worrying about all that tiresome adult stuff like articulating corporate strategies, conversion rates, and generally getting a good operational handle on things.
In a way, of course, that's sad: it represents a loss of excitement and innocence that startups possess. But it's also good news in that it represents a maturing of enterprise open source – call it version 2.0. That was also reflected in Gentile's optimism that open source is poised to become as acceptable for enterprise apps as it now is for infrastructural software like GNU/Linux, Apache and JBoss. Of course, he would say that, but he also held out the hope for imminent proof of the same, notably in the UK.
That's pretty surprising. As readers of this blog know from my constant harping on the theme – and probably from their own bitter experience, too – the UK is something of a backwater when it comes to uptake of open source: we lag seriously behind the rest of Europe, particularly France. I think this is largely due to the negative climate towards free software engendered by certain senior politicians over the last decade or so, which has allowed their big chum Microsoft to sunk its proprietary fangs so deeply into the UK body politic that it will take a team of free software digital dentists to pull them out.
So if JasperSoft does indeed announce a welter of contracts soon – which I certainly hope it does, since thriving open source companies mean thriving open source – optimists might take this as evidence that in business, at least, the message about open source and its manifold advantages is finally getting through. Me, I'll stick to being a curmudgeon for a while longer....
Gentile also gave an interesting example of how open source might thrive in cloud cuckoo computing land. One of JasperSoft's clients embeds the former's code in a vertical application handling hydrocarbon allocation, also available “in the cloud”. The great thing is that JasperSoft doesn't really have to worry about any of this. It's not aiming to build up aircraft hangar-sized computing facilities to run clouds itself; instead, it just picks up an annual cheque from those who *do* run JasperSoft's code in the cloud.
This looks generalisable for other open source companies with code that can be licensed to specialist third parties, who then worry about the details (like providing the service). Meanwhile, the software company just gets on with what they're good at, which is coding and servicing that code.
One reason why this approach works particularly well is that free software is modular, meaning that there is a greater chance bits of it can be embedded in these kind of specialist apps. Indeed, such modularity is one of the defining characteristics of truly open source code: it's the only way to allow distributed and democratised development. It also means that you can update individual modules independently, speeding up code renewal, and helping to keep free software at the leading edge – all good reasons why over time enterprise open source 2.0 is likely to win out over the more sclerotic code-bases of its proprietary rivals.