Commercial Open Source in Action: Intalio

Business process automation vendor Intalio has completed some late round financing and seems completely through its repositioning as a commercial open source company. Intalio’s co-founder and CEO Ismail Ghalimi really seems to get the commercial open source model (which he dubs COSMO), and his new vision for Intalio looks a lot like the SugarCRM model, with a nice commercial product with added features for easier use by businesses as well as strong commercial support.

I talked a lot with Ismail while writing a profile of Intalio for a 451 Group report titled “Going Open” that chronicled several software providers taking turns towards open sourcing some or all of their offerings.  Almost two years ago, Ghalimi was sold on commercial open source and the importance of a demand-driven business model. I think this move will pay off well for Intalio – as complex business process management has too long been owned by highly proprietary products and high-cost and long-cycled consultancy scenarios. Just as Sugar breathed fresh air into what were long and expensive CRM development cycles, I think Intalio can do the same thing for BPM.

Ismail gives a nice history of the company’s move towards his COSMO vision in this blog post.

The most interesting part of the story is where Ismail reveals what he calls the “dirty little secret” when it comes to open source development of enterprise-ready software:

…most projects receive very little contributions from the outside, and the more complex the software is, the less meaningful contributions it receives, unless you’re talking about mainstream technologies like an operating system’s kernel or a web server. Take a Relational Database Management System for example: most contributions to the MySQL codebase are made by employees of MySQL AB (now Sun Microsystems), and you find a similar status quo for Enterprise DB or Ingres. The same was true for JBoss — JBoss, Inc. ended up hiring most of its contributors. In other words, making your code available under an Open Source license won’t guarantee that you’ll get outside contributions, and in most cases, you won’t get any at all.

I think his point is interesting…on the one hand, we at SugarCRM have seen the opposite in some ways, but still agree with the importance of commercial open source and keeping a clean, centralized IP. For one, the SugarCRM code is based on PHP and it is pretty easy for a PHP developer to work on the code – which is why we have more than 500 extensions at SugarForge. But since we do sell a commercial version, it is imperative that we allow no contribution to the core code.

I think that’s where the confusion comes in – too many press, analysts, confused IT buyers and closed-source vendors trying to disparage open source to save their dying business model perpetuate incorrect stereotypes about the commercial open source model. If it takes a cute term like COSMO to help, hey, I’m on board. Though, in my book, there is only one true Cosmo: