The state of open source: Andy Astor, EnterpriseDB

The EnterpriseDB CEO sees harmony between developers and capitalists as essential to moving open source forward

Open source now enjoys a rich and complex history, which is largely the result of trial and error over the years. What would you say have been the open source community's greatest missteps, or lessons learned?

It's the same lesson that proprietary vendors have learned over the years, and that is that great software is not enough. I looked on SourceForge earlier today, and there are over 170,000 projects, and most of them are dead. Successful software, whether it's open soruce or proprietary, needs a combination of great development and features -- and distribution, marketing, salesmanship, and so forth. Linux would not be a mainstream operating system without Red Hat, and I'm sure that some of my good friends with disagree with me on that. I don't think we'd get too much disagreement that JBoss would be nowhere without the JBoss corporation, or MySQL without MySQL, and Sugar without Sugar. But I think it's true for independent organizations, too. In spite of being a fantastic database, PostgreSQL has had only modest success because it hasn't had a company behind it. We're working to make EnterpriseDB that company. It's more than a matter of building great software. You need marketing, service, salesmanship, support, and documentation -- all the things that open source projects don't necessarily want to do. And that's what capitalists do with software.

If you could wave your wand and create the perfect software "universe," what would it look like?

I actually think we're watching it unfold right now: motivated, independent open source developers in coexistence with capitalists, where the developers are reaping the rewards of doing great work that they want to do, alongside business people who want to create capital rewards for that work and share those rewards with the people who created them. The models for how that works are maturing, and are getting better all the time.

There has been a fair amount of controversy, competition, and dissent within the various open source communities. Does this lack of agreement damage the long-term goals of open source, or would you like to see more of this?

I want to see more of it. Conflict is always tough on communities, but it also always drives better results in the long run. In this, conflict is akin to competition, which drives better performance, speaking from a capitalist's perspective. Most of the competition and dissent within open source communities happens around questions of what to build and how to build it, both of which are essential to spurring innovation. As for tensions between commercial and noncommercial approaches to open source, I think the aversion to business interests are fading. Serious developers are generally very interested in seeing their work become successful. And in this age, success means widespread use, which is very much tied to the need for the kinds of services, documentation, and support business interests can provide.

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