The open source revolution

by Toby Ward — Discussion on my intranet blog often indicates what topics are hot with the intranet community, and a recent posting on open source drew reaction from users and CMS vendors alike, suggesting it’s an issue that deserves greater attention.
First of all, it’s important to know what we mean by “open source.” Wikipedia provides the following definition:

Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's sources. Some consider it as a philosophy , and others consider it as a pragmatic methodology. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet and its enabling of diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities.[1] Subsequently, open source software became the most prominent face of open source.
The open source model can allow for the concurrent use of different agendas and approaches in production, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies.
There are a number of examples of how open source is making inroads on the internet. Most of our fellow web heads use Internet Explorer to browse the net. However, more and more are using Firefox, the free open source platform. In fact, there have been almost 200 million downloads to date. In Germany, 45% of web users use Firefox.

IBM has embraced open source with both arms. Red Hat is a billion-dollar company that focuses solely on open source integration and implementation (namely the Linux operating system). With $300M in annual revenue and a profit margin of nearly 27%, Red Hat has proven the financial viability of riding the open source train.

One company watching the open source content management and intranet sector closely is Optaros. An Optaros survey released last Christmas highlights the potential value of using Open Source.

The study was conducted in August and September 2005 with responses from 512 U.S. companies, government agencies and other organizations. The study found that the clear majority of organizations (87%) were using open source systems, software often available for free and built by communities of software developers. The most frequently-used open source software was the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, and web browsers, used at some level by more than 70% of the companies represented by the survey participants. About half the respondents were using open source database management systems and application servers in a single business function.

Sampled companies ranged in size from small organizations with revenue under $50 million to large organizations with revenues over $1 billion. The move to open source software is in part explained by the cost savings that companies are generating.

Organizations with annual revenue of more than $1 billion saved an average $3.3 million in 2004 from their open source software. Medium-sized companies (with revenues between $50 million and $1 billion) saved an average $1.1 million, and companies less than $50 million saved about $500,000. Several survey respondents reported substantial savings: a technology company cut costs by $20 million, and four companies (three of them telecommunications firms) each saved $10 million last year.

Gaining in popularity are open source business applications software such as portals and content management systems. Some 42% of the survey participants had open source portals and content management systems that supported a single function. Some 16% used open source customer relationship management systems, a percentage that will double in the next three years.

Open source content management is becoming hot. Seth Gottlieb is the Content Management and Collaboration Lead at Optaros and he’s watching the enterprise and intranet space closely.
Some of the open source solutions that Seth watches include:
  • Brocalage
  • OpenCMS
  • Magnolia
  • CPS
  • Alfresco
  • Joomla
  • Typo3
However, Plone is one of Seth’s favorites. “I particularly like the (Plone) founder’s approach of “less is more,” he told the team at Prescient Digital Media. “Plone has a very user-friendly interface as well as a plug-in architecture for adding on other applications.”

The one detraction to Plone, Gottlieb notes, is using Plone as an architecture for building new applications. A problem he likens to Lotus Notes application development.

“The number of open source choices is both good and bad,” Seth adds. “Good, because you have many options that you could make work. Bad because the selection is often overwhelming. I guess that goes for the commercial CMS market as well…. Having an understanding of the business and operational aspects of content management is so important and often overlooked in a marketplace that is dominated by software vendors drawing attention to features rather than requirements.”

A couple of other findings from the Optaros study:
  • The study found that once organizations start using open source software, their usage typically increases.
  • Most companies were confronted by four primary barriers to achieving even greater benefits:
  • Uncertainties about open source software that often relegate the software to the IT function
  • Lack of understanding of licensing and legal issues around open source software
  • Software cost allocation policies that discourage business functions from reducing the cost of commercial software
  • The difficulty of identifying, evaluating, purchasing and maintaining open source software
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Toby Ward writes for several news blogs including and Toby is the President of Prescient Digital Media which specializes in Internet and intranet strategy, technology and total site management. For a copy of the free intranet white paper Finding ROI, please contact us.