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Is there Open Source without Open Governance?

There are so many misconceptions about open source software. For example one fallacy is that open source means free software. A bigger misconception is that all open source is, in fact, really open. These misconceptions can drive poor decisions and expose companies to risks. Open source software should mean software that is created and evolved by a community. The source code should be available for inspection, forking (the creation of another path based on the code at a point in time), modification, and use. There’s nothing wrong with open source that’s managed through a license. Like fences, license help set social boundaries. And as it is with a fence though

User Experience Trumps Feature Load

As I was conducting my research on the enterprise chat segment of the collaboration and communication market, I reviewed a number of products in that space. What struck me most was the simplicity of the products. Not that the code wasn’t complex – a lot of what these products do required extensive engineering – but I was impressed by how simple and clean the user experience was. Most of these product were highly intuitive. They were designed to be easy to understand and easy to use. Honestly, the learning curve on these products was negligible. This is a primary example where the user experience trumps the temptation to pile on

Tackling Complexity and Security – The InformaticaWorld 2015 Big Picture

The message from IT professionals at InformaticaWorld 2015 this past week was pretty clear. Complexity is making data management tough to do these days. Cloud and mobile was, in their minds, a great boon to business. Both gave access to applications that used to be frozen on desktops. It also meant that data security was more complicated than ever and the amount and type of data rapidly expanding. New IT architectures, microservices and containers, were leading to more flexible and easier to deploy applications. The unfortunate side effect was data silos of structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data. Add to this mix machine data a.k.a dark data – data generated by

Data Masking or Encryption

Last week I gave a talk at InformaticaWorld followed by a panel discussion with Manish Gupta and John Gibel, both of Informatica. In the midst of talking about the different methods of securing test data we found ourselves in a really interesting conversation about data making and encryption. We searched around for a clear answer as to which made the most sense in a majority of use cases. In the end, we settled on “both” and “it depends”. For those of you who don’t follow software testing, let me say, you should. It doesn’t matter your role in the software development process, everyone needs to test code and systems using

Informatica Goes Private

Today, Informatica announced that it has agreed to be acquired by international private equity firm The Permira Funds and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The all-cash deal, which values Informatica at US$5.3B, takes the company private. Private equity takeovers are as rare as white tigers in the IT market with mergers and acquisitions with other tech companies more common. The most recent (and dramatic) exception was Dell which was driven by founder and CEO Michael Dell. Like Dell, taking Informatica makes infinite amounts of sense. The conversion of revenue from one time capital expense to subscription based services is making it hard for technology companies, especially software companies, to

Is there Open Source without Open Governance?

There are so many misconceptions about open source software. For example one fallacy is that open source means free software. A bigger misconception is that all open source is, in fact, really open. These misconceptions can drive poor decisions and expose companies to risks.

Open source software should mean software that is created and evolved by a community. The source code should be available for inspection, forking (the creation of another path based on the code at a point in time), modification, and use. There’s nothing wrong with open source that’s managed through a license. Like fences, license help set social boundaries. And as it is with a fence though the goal of the license should be the betterment of a community and not a single entity.

That brings us to the big problem with much of what passes for open source. It has become fashionable for companies to “open source” their code without really making it open. The company maintains full copyright and the future of the code base is governed by the company exclusively. The advantage is completely with the company releasing the code because they maintain the right to change the license and direct the evolution of the code. Meanwhile, legions of programmers test the code and develop features for free. Features that may not stay open if the license says so.

While technically open source, these type of projects are not open governance. Open governance requires a non-partisan controlling body such as not-for-profit foundation or industry group. This is the Apache model. The board of such as group, not a single company, makes decisions about the software. The board should, in theory, represent a community. It is entirely possible that a not-for-profit foundation or industry group may be heavily influenced by a few larger donors. We all know that money talks. The influence though has to be indirect. Otherwise, an overly controlling donor would open themselves to the derision of the IT community. That’s the same community that they want to sell products to…

I don’t object to closed software. If a company chooses to protect its intellectual property by using a closed copyright and trade secrets model, that’s their choice. Much of the time that is a good choice. What I object to is calling something “open” when it actually is not.

Without open governance – that is without the control of the license in the hands of a group that represents the community – then releasing the software as open source is just aform of a defensive disclosure. With the source in the wild, someone else will have a harder time filing a patent that might cover some aspect of the software. Meanwhile lots of developers are finding bugs and creating features while the company maintains complete control over the license. Ultimately, the community is not in the driver’s seat and is at risk to unilateral changes in the license. That’s not open

Open source is not really open unless there is open governance. The risk is much lower with open governance than many other open source situations. For an IT manager looking at open source software, consider who actually controls the code before making decisions about using the software.

User Experience Trumps Feature Load

As I was conducting my research on the enterprise chat segment of the collaboration and communication market, I reviewed a number of products in that space. What struck me most was the simplicity of the products. Not that the code wasn’t complex – a lot of what these products do required extensive engineering – but I was impressed by how simple and clean the user experience was. Most of these product were highly intuitive. They were designed to be easy to understand and easy to use. Honestly, the learning curve on these products was negligible.

This is a primary example where the user experience trumps the temptation to pile on feature after feature. This is a common tendency in software design. In an attempt to differentiate from other products in a market segment, companies add more and more features to a product until it no longer resembles the original intent of the designers. Software that once solved a simple but important set of problems for end-users becomes a tangled mess of rarely used features. Instead of true innovation, software companies enter into a type of arms race with each copying the so-called “best” features of their competitors and adding more obscure features that the others feel compelled to copy.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for innovative features. Enterprise chat products have unique features that address certain types of customers and their use cases. At present, vendors haven’t allowed added features to drown out the core set of characteristics that make enterprise chat useful in the first place including ease-of-use.

Given the number of companies in the space, it is likely that eventually they too will enter into a features arms race. The need to compete on features rather than whole product (pricing, service, delivery options, etc.) is too compelling. If this does happen, it will be dripping with irony since these products are exploiting the feature bloat in current communications and collaboration products. This is already happening in the consumer space where products such as Facebook Messenger is “evolving” into a gaming and payments platform and its competitors are following suit. Pretty soon, consumer chat products will drift far enough away from what made people want to use it in the first place that their original purpose be undetectable.

There is still time for enterprise chat companies to sidestep this problem. They can consider line extensions and complimentary products, leaving the core chat products alone. There is room for some well-chosen features that enhance the user experience and make IT admins happy. Other than that, enterprise chat vendors should leave a good thing alone.