What happens when open source needs a closed source solution?
Posted on Aug 14, 2006
Just a warning to all who would read this - i think i was a bit tipsy when writing it. so it is very very ranting and probably doesn't make sense.
I have been playing around in my head with scenarios of what must happen when an organization which has a philosophy of using only open source suddenly finds itself in need of a closed source solution. This seems to me to be an interesting quandary for the poor open source only people.
I think that possibly a need would arise where an organization would find that their open source solution is not possibly giving the same results as a closed source solution. I could see this being the case for application servers, or search engines, or possibly even a framework or something. Probably things where money equals performance. For my example i will use a search engine - since that is what my background is.
It seems to me that using closed source is obviously contrary to a philosophy of open sourcism (hah). But i feel that possibly publicly challenging the open source world by saying “Hey - we do not want to use this closed source product, but we are forced to because the open source solution plane does not offer the performance that we need.”
I would hope that this transparent admission of the difficulty of the situation would engage the community surrounding your site or application to support a competing open source solution and hopefully foster that solution so that one day it will be competitive.
I think a good example of the level of application i am looking for is JBOSS. This is an open source application server that started small and became a competitor. Sure it isn’t as fancy or fast as web-logic - but it seems be a contender when choosing a java application server.
I started to think about this a lot when i was talking with some people about my feelings about endeca search and wikipedia. A couple of them brought up the point that endeca is closed source, and owns patents (which is apparently the most evil of thing to do when dealing with open source). The suggested issue is whether a company like wikipedia - which is built on entirely open source solutions (i think) would have a problem philosophically using a closed source (and patent full) solution like endeca.
In my musing with myself - i thought about whether they would do well to publicly call for solutions. Not like an RFP. Something were the board would take a look at some solutions - much like a company would look for a search engine. and decide which solution would be best or easiest. All of this being very open and transparent. Allowing open source solutions to compete as well as closed source solutions. This would allow the community to be the judge of what is best for wikipedia. And would show them where the level of open source search community is. and allow them to set a bar that would set the goal of open source search.
I really can’t imagine an open source search engine that would be up to par with endeca or really any commercial search engine. So it seems that the community surrounding wikipedia would benefit from being able to use a good solution for search. and the open source search engine technology would benefit from having a potential goal for their development.
I am sure this is convoluted. and probably not sound. but it was some ranting my mind was doing to itself and i wanted to make sure that i figured it out.