In the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert relays the story of a great saint that meditated on God with a number of other followers. The saint’s annoying cat impeded meditation, so it was tied to a pole outside the temple prior to meditating. Over time tying the cat to the pole became a ritual and prerequisite for successful mediation. Imagine the group’s despair when the cat died! They had no idea how they’d be able to successfully meditate without first tying the cat to the pole. A means to an end (removing the cat) had gotten in the way of staying focused on the real objective (meditating). Has the act of vendors open sourcing a technology become the modern-day version of tying the cat to the pole?
When something becomes popular – wildly popular – it is easy to lose sight of how and why it became popular in the first place. Over a year ago I wrote a post on this phenomenon. (Summary: Cloud computing is a mindset/technology/methodology. It’s a way to address a potentially wide variety of customer requirements. Cloud computing is almost never a customer requirement unto itself. It is a means to an end. It is not the objective per se.)
The wild success of some open source projects has brought tremendous attention to the benefits open source methods can deliver. Why have some open source projects (Linux, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, Kodi and others) been so successful and others not so much? Because while open source can be a fantastic vehicle that helps address important user needs, open sourcing is not a guarantee those important needs will be addressed. The concept of open source is so unique and groundbreaking (“Let’s invest resources to create something….and then give it away.”) that it has gotten large amounts of attention. Unfortunately, some have lost sight of what open source is intended to deliver.
Most users today want two basic things:
Open source is hot……really hot. It has changed and is continuing to change the face of technology. Open sourced projects are at the core of new industry developments that would not be possible were they to be driven by a single vendor. Users see this progress and they want to benefit from it – so when assessing technologies for their environments they’ll often seek out open sourced technologies – using it as a litmus test or “requirement” for selection.
But none of us should lose sight of the fact that open sourced technology is not the objective. The objective is to deliver new capabilities to users as quickly as possible while also giving them the freedom to change vendors relatively easily. An open sourced project without a vibrant, active community around it can’t deliver on those needs, and thus simply becomes a cat tied to the pole: It loses sight of the real objective.