Top Exec: Open Source and Proprietary are not Sworn Enemies

Paul Rubens’ February article in CIO magazine, 7 Reasons Not to Use Open Source Software, has received quite the backlash in open source circles. I’d like to take a moment to add my own two cents, but I won’t be fanning the flames of the hardline open source fire. Let me be clear—I take issue with this article, but I don’t disagree with most of it. Instead, I think it only tells part of the story, failing to give open source credit where it’s due.

Open Source and Proprietary are not Sworn Enemies 

Time and again, we’ve said this: pitting open source versus proprietary rests on the false premise that licensing model is indicative of quality.  Furthermore, it ignores the existence of Commercial Open Source  as a viable option for larger businesses who want the technical transparency and flexibility of open source with the support and security of an enterprise system. Let’s be honest—there might come a time in a business’ growth when the free version of an open source CMS no longer provides all the features needed. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up the scalability, integration power and customizability open standards offer. Instead, it might be time to upgrade to the enterprise version of that same great product.  Rubens misses the mark by only discussing open source in terms of small projects that aren’t backed by commercial companies—and then generalizes about all software based on open standards. Community and Commercial Enterprise versions of open source CMS aren’t different in quality—they just cater to different needs.

Who’s Really Closed Source Anyway?

Rubens’ point is actually quite reasonable. It is not always in a business’ best interests to be dogmatic about open source. But I’d add the following: when support, usability and special features are needed, it’s not always in a business’ best interests to be dogmatic about the far extremes of open source. And these days, open source is the backbone of good commercial software anyway. For a new software vendor entering the market, creating a fully closed source solution would be extremely difficult—and probably a fast ticket to bankruptcy. Among the many reasons Hippo remains dedicated to open source is because it makes our lives easier, and allows us to innovate faster.  Rubens’ main objection to open source is its usability. Lest we forget, even Apple—the embodiment of usability for unskilled users-- is built on open source.  So proponents of closed source: give open source the credit it deserves. Your favorite software is standing on the shoulders of open source giants.

By Arje Cahn, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Hippo. Arjé is the technical brain behind Hippo CMS and an avid member of the Apache Software Foundation. As CTO, Arjé keeps a close eye on all technological developments within Hippo.