After studying this section you should be able to do the following:
- Recognize that just about every type of commercial product has an open source equivalent.
- Be able to list commercial products and their open source competitors.
Just about every type of commercial product has an open source equivalent. SourceForge.net lists over two hundred and thirty thousand such products1! Many of these products come with the installation tools, support utilities, and full documentation that make them difficult to distinguish from traditional commercial efforts (Woods, 2008). In addition to the LAMP products, some major examples include the following:
- Firefox—a Web browser that competes with Internet Explorer
- OpenOffice—a competitor to Microsoft Office
- Gimp—a graphic tool with features found in Photoshop
- Alfresco—collaboration software that competes with Microsoft Sharepoint and EMC’s Documentum
- Marketcetera—an enterprise trading platform for hedge fund managers that competes with FlexTrade and Portware
- Zimbra—open source e-mail software that competes with Outlook server
- MySQL, Ingres, and EnterpriseDB—open source database software packages that each go head-to-head with commercial products from Oracle, Microsoft, Sybase, and IBM
- SugarCRM—customer relationship management software that competes with Salesforce.com and Siebel
- Asterix—an open source implementation for running a PBX corporate telephony system that competes with offerings from Nortel and Cisco, among others
- Free BSD and Sun’s OpenSolaris—open source versions of the Unix operating system
- There are thousands of open source products available, covering nearly every software category. Many have a sophistication that rivals commercial software products.
- Not all open source products are contenders. Less popular open source products are not likely to attract the community of users and contributors necessary to help these products improve over time (again we see network effects are a key to success—this time in determining the quality of an OSS effort).
- Just about every type of commercial product has an open source equivalent.
Questions and Exercises
- Visit http://www.SourceForge.net. Make a brief list of commercial product categories that an individual or enterprise might use. Are there open source alternatives for these categories? Are well-known firms leveraging these OSS offerings? Which commercial firms do they compete with?
- Are the OSS efforts you identified above provided by commercial firms, nonprofit organizations, or private individuals? Does this make a difference in your willingness to adopt a particular product? Why or why not? What other factors influence your adoption decision?
- Download a popular, end-user version of an OSS tool that competes with a desktop application that you own, or that you’ve used (hint: choose something that’s a smaller file or easy to install). What do you think of the OSS offering compared to the commercial product? Will you continue to use the OSS product? Why or why not?
Woods, D., “The Commercial Bear Hug of Open Source,” Forbes, August 18, 2008.