“Freakish” Enterprise Solutions Need Community Input

Just in time for Halloween, here’s a warning about scary enterprise apps and a reminder that it takes a community to build a decent solution.Matt Asay’s Open Source blog on CNET highlighted a terrific post by Khoi Vinh, design director for NYTimes.com. Vinh’s Subtraction blog takes on the “freakish” design qualities of many enterprise applications.

“Enterprise software, it can hardly be debated, is pretty bad stuff. The high-dollar applications that businesses use to run their internal operations … are some of the least friendly, most difficult systems ever committed to code.This is partly because enterprise software rarely gets critiqued the way even a US$30 piece of shareware will. It doesn’t benefit from the rigor of a wide and varied base of users, many of whom will freely offer merciless feedback, goading and demanding it to be better with each new release. Shielded away from the bright scrutiny of the consumer marketplace and beholden only to a relatively small coterie of information technology managers who are concerned primarily with stability, security and the continual justification of their jobs and staffs, enterprise software answers to few actual users.”

Vinh goes on to savage the latest Lotus Notes 8 ad campaign — “freakish” is too mild a term for it. Read the whole “If It Looks Like a Cow, Swims Like a Dolphin and Quacks Like a Duck, It Must Be Enterprise Software” post for more. Matt Asay’s point is simple — open source enterprise applications have at least a chance of being better thanks to the community processes underlying open source development. And if IT departments began using their own community of users to shape development … who knows what might happen?

Open Source Disruption: Will You Trust Your Community?

Research and consulting organizations don’t get much attention from prospective customers by saying everything is fine — “status quo.” So a firm like Saugatuck Technology can be forgiven for a bit of headline hyperbole when talking about the impact open source will have on enterprise IT management over the next three to four years. But “Open Source as Disruptive Influence” (research notes PDF, free registration required) makes a strong case for the impact open source is having on both enterprise IT organizations and the software and services vendors that sell to them. Saugatuck says:

“Thirty-two per cent of user enterprise executives expect that by YE 2010, more than half of their key on-premise software will be open-source.This massive growth in adoption is one reason why open source software is rapidly becoming one of the most disruptive influences seen on IT and business – for users and for vendors. Open source is changing the way user enterprises perceive, buy, and use software. And as a result, open source is changing the way IT vendors and service providers develop, license and support software …Open source is first and foremost a development methodology, not a product, a technology, a single license scheme, or a business model. Open source’s key advantages for users and vendors derive from its community-driven development model. The greatest benefits will go to those who understand this and use it to their advantage.”

I’ve been thinking about “community-driven” development for awhile now. Far too many organizations simply don’t trust their customers or their employees enough to let them truly collaborate on creating new products, despite ample anecdotal evidence that this makes better products and more loyal customers. Ask any developer pursuing an agile development methodology what their user collaborators say about the process and the outcomes.This thinking applies to more than software. “When Rebuilding Confidence Becomes the Priority” (subscription required) in Monday’s Wall Street Journal highlights the need to involve the community in the product to survive a near-disaster.

A380 courtesy linternaute.com When development delays of the giant Airbus A380 superjumbo drove launch customers to revolt, A380 program executive Mario Heinen “threw open Airbus factories and invited customers into planning sessions. “We shared details I can’t imagine other companies presenting,” he says.” While his moves helped restore confidence in the project, how much better would it have been if Airbus had more closely involved those customers all along?So here’s a question for the IT execs in the audience: does using open source mean involving more than a community of developers? Can the larger user community within an organizations be a trusted part of the open source process? Please post your responses and comments below.

KnowledgeTree Adopts GPL v3 License

South Africa-based open source document management project KnowledgeTree released KnowledgeTree Open Source Edition 3.5 under the OSI-approved GPL v3 license Wednesday, replacing the prior “KnowledgeTree Public License” for this and future versions.In his in-depth blog post about the license change, KnowledgeTree COO Daniel Chalef explains the thinking behind adopting GPLv3. Some key elements include:

“Firstly, we wanted a license that would be widely accepted by our community and the open source community at large. We did not want to risk the license we were using to be, over time, relegated to the peripheries of the open source world. We wanted to use a license that would have wide acceptance and momentum behind it. What this would mean is that our community would fully understand their rights and obligations around utilizing the software and would not be dissuaded from doing so because they felt they would need to undertake a lengthy and costly legal exercise to determine if they could use our code …We’ve also matured our thinking, built out our community, learnt a lot more about our business and now believe that a strong copyleft license is more appropriate for us: it is far more friendly to an open source community and far more likely to dissuade commercial use of the code in circumstances where profit is involved.”

I was struck by this forward-looking and common-sense approach. Speaking for the “customer” side, IT managers considering an enterprise-class open source solution for use inside the company firewall find the intricacies of some open source licensing terms can turn a simple product selection decision based on features and cost into a mind-numbing analysis of dense and often ambiguous licensing legalese.Acknowledging that easily understood terms for using open source applications benefit both the “customer” and the “contributor” communities demonstrates a clear vision of what’s important for the advancement of open source and the success of enterprise projects. Congrats to KnowledgeTree.

More Open Source Politics: EU 1 — Microsoft 0

Monday’s big not-really-news was Microsoft’s acceptance of the European Commission’s 2004 antitrust ruling governing sharing of information about workgroup server protocols with third-party developers. Microsoft also agreed to lower the royalty rate for the information. It’s a big concession by Microsoft — but a big ‘so what?’ from the enterprise open source community.InformationWeek’s Open Source blog may have headlined it best: Microsoft Bows To The EU, Open Source Shrugs . The post also gives a good roundup of the issues.But the best quote may have come in ZDNet’s Open Source blog . Citing no benefit and a change in patent licensing, OpenOffice.org marketing lead John McCreesh said: “the EU has laboured for three years to produce this particular ridiculous mouse.”In the same ZDNet post, Optaros developer Dave Gynn made a more specific request, noting while the decision opens up internal protocols “we’re not writing code to that level. We need web service APIs, not protocol at the network transport level.”Will Microsoft ever accept the open source agenda? Stay tuned for the next round.

Open Source as a Political Solution: Sarajevo

Enterpise open source solutions can show up in some unusual places. For example, take this blog item from Roberto Galoppini’s Commercial Open Source Software:

I just got back from Sarajevo, where I participated as speaker to an advanced course in web communications in the Public Administration. The course, aimed at public operators from Bosnia-Herzegovina, was designed to be an in-depth analysis on the use of Open Source in Public Administrations.

Galoppini’s seminar is part of “Project: BALKAN AREA 2 – Development and Strengthening of Local and Central Public Administrations

“The project “Balkans 2 – Development and Strengthening central and local PA in the Balkan Region” is aimed to 6 Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro) and continues the activities already started up and partly developed with the Balkans 1 project which was held from November 3rd to December 31st 2004. This is an integrated project of “Institutional and Capacity Building” aimed to civil servants and executives from central and local Balkan administrations, divided into diverse activities of technical assistance, classroom and on-the-job training, information and communications …”

Given the history in the region, it’s no surprise improved communications among public administrators might be considered an important undertaking. What better way to create a more open society than by using open source solutions?

Mindquarry is Dead; Long Live Mindquarry

Mark Twain reportedly once said "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."Mindquarry, an open source collaboration platform, has announced that they will stop supporting the commercial versions of their products, effective October 1st: "Mindquarry’s commercial offerings end."However, as an open source platform, the decision to stop offering commercial products doesn’t mean the project has to end.Lars Trieloff quickly noted:

. . . this is not the end of Mindquarry as an open source project. As long as there is a community that cares for Mindquarry I will continue to invest my time in Mindquarry.

It will be interesting to see how the community around the project reacts – whether community activity waxes or wanes as a result of the decision to stop offering commercial versions.

Open Source projects linking with EOS Directory

We have extended our EOS Directory to provide an easy approach to Open Source projects to link into “their” page. This will allow Open Source projects to profit from being listed on EOS Directory and have real time ratings on their own site. All it takes is to copy some HTML code. Many projects have been asked for this functionality. There are a number of things we are also working on, so stay tuned for some significant changes coming up.

To use the badge, select your project page and look for the badge graphic and code at the bottom of the listing.

Changing the rating procedure on EOS

After listening carefully to feedback from our user group we decided to change the rating procedure. We are currently implementing a new approach that will be launched soon. In our next version users will have to authenticate themselves (and therefore register before if they haven’t done so yet – it’s the same procedure as for the forums) – before they can rate. – To complement the rating people will receive both a feedback on what the rating actually means and the possibility to enter a comment to support their rating. With this we hope to receive valuable additional insights into usage experience and more objective rating input. We are interested of course to receive feedback from the user community on whether they like this new approach or not of course. The changes should be online in a few days.

The value of Ratings and the trouble with it

When we started to develop our Open Source Directory we were taking an Enterprise perspective from start on. We wanted to develop a tool that helps CIOs and IT decision makers to easily find and pre-select open source technology. For this purpose we defined our rating system. We went one step further with the online version and opened the platform for EOS users to also enter their rating. In an ideal world this “user rating” would follow the same rules and guidelines as the “Optaros rating”. Both the “Optaros rating” and the “user rating” are trying to assess the “enterprise readiness”. We defined 5 levels of “enterprise readiness”:4 stars:Product/projects matches or is superior to best – proprietary/closed source – available and widely used products. It has proven to be a standard in a specific category that you can’t pass.3 stars:Product/project is mature, fulfills the important requirements and is supported well, it is enterprise ready and conforms to typically found needs/requirements in enterprise production environments2 stars:The right tool for the many situations, more investigations needed, not top league yet. Weaknesses may be driven by technology or lack of functionality or support. A proof of concept is recommended.1 star:Not recommended (yet) to be used immediately in a broad and enterprise wide context, other than early proofs of concept or deployment in a controlled way (e.g. as component that understood by the developer)0 star:Not recommended to be used in an enterprise, probably not worth further investigation. These technologies are not shown in the directory at all.When looking at the “user ratings” people often seem to have only one objective, bumping up the technology to 4 stars. But it takes a lot to reach the 4-star-level in reality. With this we would like to ask people doing ratings to stick to the criteria defined and make a reasonable judgement.

EOS reaching first peak loads

Not only did we launch our EOS at 10:02 CET today, we also experienced already significant peak loads and had to fix a couple of things to make the site faster. We apologize for any inconveniences! We already gathered quite a lot of feedback from our first day users and will make sure we can incorporate many of the ideas as soon as possible. With postings on Heise Online and Heise Open we attracted many interested people from Germany. Matt Asay blogged on EOS as well and we hope many more will cover it.