On the (rather hard to get into) LinkedIn ELN group, there was a question about the use of Open Source components in commercial ELN products.
We use a lot of Open Source components in our products, and I know we’re not alone.
There are vendors who are very committed to a specific platform – Windows (and associated libraries, APIs etc.), Oracle, and so on. Those will almost certainly have some Open Source components in them, but not much.
There are other vendors – Amphora (my company) and Rescentris are two that I know of – who have built on top of an Open Source stack. We do have some proprietary components but where there’s an Open Source alternative we use that.
- The Open Source stuff just works better (and you can fix it if it isn’t).
- Support is better.
- Licensing issues go away (of course you have to abide by the Open Source license, but that’s not a problem as long as you check everything before the developers start using it).
- It is dramatically cheaper for our customers to deploy. No expensive additional Windows Server or Oracle licenses (unless you want to use those of course – we can support them if you prefer).
- We have much more latitude in deployment options. We can bundle our product in a variety of ways and on different platforms, which we wouldn’t be able to do if we were locked to a specific commercial platform. You can get PatentSafe as everything from SaaS, to an embedded device, to a traditional “Install this on your own server” software product.
A few years ago we got raised eyebrows about our platform choices (“We will only consider applications written in .Net”) but that’s not been an issue for a long time. Everyone assumes that the components we’ve assembled into the solution will work and we’re responsible for the overall performance of that – what bits we’ve chosen seldom get discussed.
From what I can see, Open Source starts at the bottom of the stack – the OS, generally – and is gradually moving up (Database, Application Server, some applications). Every commercial vendor needs to keep an eye on what value they are bringing compared to what’s provided by the community.
As an aside, we don’t consider ourselves to be a “Software Vendor”. We solve a business problem and it just so happens we deliver our expertise as some software which implements a “best in class” process. But we don’t consider we’re charging for “software” – we get paid for our expertise and how we deploy that to help customers solve their problem.
What that means is that as the software environment changes (and quite probably Open Source gets further up the stack) that’s not something that threatens our identity. I know some vendors (particularly those locked to proprietary platforms) aren’t so lucky, and I wonder how they will fare as the Open Source community begins to provide more and more of the “ELN” system.