Business & Technology Nexus

Dave Stephens on technology and business trends

Open Source, Viral Adoption, and “A Bag Of Junk”

with 5 comments

I’ve been out there on the Coupa beat talking Open Source and Procurement since our July 27th launch of the Preview Release. It’s been both fun and entertaining.

Several interesting viewpoints (myths?) have come up as blockers to open source adoption that I thought I’d share.

1) Open source won’t ever work for Enterprise Applications, it only works for infrastructure layers.

Please see my prior post on “First We Made Games..” – I find it fascinating how folks can continually resist extrapolation even when a large data set of precedents exists. Games but not operating systems. Operating systems but not web servers. Web servers but not databases. Databases but not Apps. Hmm. I’ve heard that before.

2) Open source infrastructure (operating system, database, web server) is a “a bag of junk” being hoisted on unsuspecting customers against their will, where support costs are astronomical and frustration high.

This one actually made me laugh a little. Obviously the gentleman who made the comment has never looked at Microsoft Windows code (or Oracle Database code for that matter). I think Linus Torvalds once said “all bugs are superficial with enough eyes looking at them” – hence the customer experience I hear is that open source products tend to be more robust and customers more confident in their reliability. Now that’s certainly not always. But the stuff that stays and grows faces a crucible of critical attention that closed source products just never see.

3) For open source to work well there has to be viral adoption – i.e. people need to begin using the system “under the radar” and possibly without their management’s consent.

Now, there’s not enough data to debunk this assertion entirely. The story goes “it works well in CRM because sales teams do whatever they want and then momentum builds and so the head of the business says “ok it’s sugar”. But even Compiere’s numbers tend to suggest a wider appetite for open source solutions in the enterprise.

Amid these 3 “blockers” from a loud minority I’ve heard a TON of praise for the movement. Many Procurement & IT folks I’ve heard from are looking to open source to finally bring innovation to a stagnate enterprise applications market. The optimism is exhilirating.

You see, open source success may not always be viral, but it sure is infectious. :)



Written by Dave Stephens

08/8/06 8:29 PM at 8:29 pm

Posted in Open Source, Opinion

5 Responses

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  1. Dave, one argument you missed: with open source, there’s a chance that one can fix a problem on one’s own — at least theoretically. With closed source, there’s no theoretical solution — the vendor has to fix the problem. That’s OK if the vendor has a track record of responding promptly with workarounds and fixes. But it’s not OK if the vendor (your alma mater, Oracle, was a big offender in the old days) is slow to respond.

    However, one doesn’t have to be “open source” in order to provide relief in this area. For example, BIQ cheerfully escrows source code for our customers — so if we all get hit by a truck, or something, it’s not the end of the road. We also structure our deals without up front payments (i.e., cancel the deal any time you want), which (unlike Oracle) puts us squarely on the hook for a prompt fix or workaround. With regard to open source, though, we do some very innovative things with our product that we’re not willing to hand to our competitors for free! So much as I like open source, we’ll be holding back for now.

    The weakest argument for Coupa open-source-wise is viral adoption. If nobody’s looking at the source code except Coupa (due to lack of interest), then you don’t pick up the “many eyes” benefit. I think that’s a valid criticism. Nevertheless, all it takes is a small number of people joining hands with you, and you’ll see immediate benefit!

    Eric Strovink

    08/9/06 6:46 AM at 6:46 am

  2. Eric, viral adoption is a very nice way to spread the solution while never really engaging in traditional sales processes. It can help form the community faster to be sure. And there are a few ways Coupa eProcurement can spread virally which, pls forgive me, i’ll hold close to the vest for now. But communities can form wherever there are common interests and so I think it’s too early to judge how well that will happen w Coupa and other open source enterprise apps plays.

    There are no easy answers when it comes to figuring out how to protect innovative intellectual property to sustain your business venture while promoting as much as possible to the open source community. The path BIQ is on might be exactly the right way to go for your efforts & I certainly wish you continued success!

    Dave Stephens

    08/9/06 9:09 AM at 9:09 am

  3. I would like to comment on that part that mentions using technology “under the radar and without management’s consent.” In this day and age of computer security policies and computer security threats, how likely is it that someone would attempt to do that? If an amployee did use unauthorized hardware or software, I would think the penalty would probably be dismissal. Furthermore, which empployee would want to be responsible for doing something that could potentially damage the entire company’s computer network?

    I’m not saying that this means using open source technology would lead to any of those things, but just the fact that using it without permission from IT is an issue regardless of whether the technology turns out to be damaging.

    Matthew W. Grant

    08/9/06 12:22 PM at 12:22 pm

  4. As much as I would like to believe in “First we made games …”, I some how feel that there is a big difference.

    See the humble history of Linux,

    “Hello everybody out there using minix –
    I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and
    professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.” …

    And the rest, you know, is

    Let’s take Apache

    “In February of 1995, the most popular server software on the Web was the public domain HTTP daemon developed by Rob McCool at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. However, development of that httpd had stalled after Rob left NCSA in mid-1994, and many webmasters had developed their own extensions and bug fixes that were in need of a common distribution.”

    and more at

    Here, the users of the applications are actually also the developers, the web masters (ofcourse, not all web masters need to be developers). Imagine the guy cutting POs on one computer writing code to fix the routing logic of the PO in the other!

    Come to this new era, unlike the humble starting of the great software from college kids and univesity scientists, these softwares are being started from the beginning by people with titles and enterprise settings, to name one,

    It’s one thing for another college kid or a web master to develop interest and in the process perhaps even contribute using their knowledge for the open source community and it’s entirely different for individuals to develop open source for enterprise applications.

    >You see, open source success may not always be viral, but it sure is infectious. :)

    You see, open source is meant for the geeks, not the bean counters. Perhaps, that’s where the infection is!


    08/10/06 9:32 PM at 9:32 pm

  5. i thought the last comment was really good – minus the conclusion. the history and links are much appreciated. my view is that open source becomes easier as it gets closer to the end user – that it was hardest to gain traction back on O/S and web server. time will tell. and hey, what’s the matter with us bean counters? we just might be geeks too! :)

    Dave Stephens

    08/11/06 7:18 AM at 7:18 am

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