Has SaaS Killed Open Source?
I’ve been thinking about SaaS (in the form of Spinn3r) and how it relates to Open Source for the past few months and I think I’ve come to some interesting conclusions. I think SaaS might be a strong competitor to Open Source in that it’s cheaper and higher quality in a number of situations.
Apparently, I’m no the only one:
Open source is always driven by some organisation – a central body that leads community development efforts to support developers and build revenue streams. In essence, that body gives away the base code and knowledge of the community version to encourage development of the service and expand distribution; to make the software go ‘viral’.
However, I believe software as a service (SAAS) has undermined this model.
SAAS offers ready access to beautifully crafted applications and services through the browser for little or no initial cost. These applications supersede centrally-held open source projects since a. they are finished products (rather than base codes, which must be developed into end-user services) and b. can be easily found, used and shared by the end users of the application/service.
More thoughts on the subject are floating in the blogosphere as well:
Opensource tends to build passionate users that consider themselves, to a certain extent “owners” and “developers” of the product in question. These communities tend to be rabidly loyal and have a tendency towards evangelisation. This is clearly a hugely powerful aspect of OSS and should be harnessed.
SaaS on the other hand tends to build networks or communities of individuals that share a commonality – be it use, interest whatever. SaaS users tend to be loyal to a point, but not nearly as loyal as opensource-ers.
To a certain extent SaaS enterprises have attempted to create the opensource level of community by embracing the concepts of beta-testing and user feedback and development. This however has been reasonably limited (mainly due to the fact that opensource is free, at some point a free beta-test of a SaaS product will generally swing over to a subscription based service).
My experience running Spinn3r has be coming to similar conclusions.
First, we don’t compete with Open Source crawlers in our interactions with customers. Why? they’re amazingly expensive in comparison.
We run a cluster of 20-30 boxes and handle all aspects of running the crawler. We’re about 1/10th of the cost vs doing it yourself since we can amortize our operations across dozens of customers.
In our situation. Open Source isn’t free. It’s 10x the cost of using Spinn3r. It seems counter intuitive but TCO really comes into play here.
Second. We’re profitable and have no problem paying our developers, buying hardware, outsourcing development, buying tools, etc. Open Source (at least in its purest form) has traditionally had problems raising capital and has often depended on the patronage model. What’s worse, if they follow the MySQL/RedHat model they often put themselves at odds with their original community which can lead to tension.
This isn’t to say that Open Source is going to go away. We’re big fans of Open Source. Most or our architecture is OSS. Heck. Even our reference client is Open Source.
It just seems that SaaS is going to grow to push Open Source out of certain areas due to price, efficiency, and quality issues.
In the end I think this is good for the market and the industry as a whole.
Certainly, our customers are very happy.
PS. As an aside. I’ve always felt that free market economics and Open Source were always hand in hand. When I was doing News Monster (which was both Open Source and Free Software) I would joke that it wasn’t “free as in beer” it was “free as in $29.95.”
We made it easy to checkout NewsMonster directly from CVS and build your own version if you wanted but if you wanted the easy one click install (which included support) then you needed to pay $29.95. Most of our users (99%) opted to pay…