The true value of Open

By John Mertic

“Open Source” was the term coined that triggered a revolution in software.  Then came terms like Open Data, Open APIs, Open Architecture, and more. What do they all mean? Are they just like Open Source?

I spent time recently at the Open Source Thinktank in Paris, where we wrestled with this very question. Does the term “Open” have a clear definition? And in relationship to all these new “Open” terms, do they all have the same properties and expectations? We came to these conclusions:

  1. The generic use of the word “Open” has no clear definition, thanks to marketing people trying to get an extra buzzword in to their product’s marketing materials. This is OK, as it’s probably a bad idea to control a word like that anyways
  2. When using the term “Open,” you should really quantify what that means, and not just use it as a buzzword.

There’s something pretty important about #2 above. Think of how many times you have seen the word “Open” thrown around without any definition to it. Clearly they are just trying to piggyback on the term “Open Source” here, and using that to imply the standards they are imposing match those of open source. This can be a pretty big fallacy, depending upon what the person behind this truly has in mind.

Looking at “Open Source,” I think there are two important tenants that really define what is expected.

–       Accessibility, meaning that you have the ability to freely access the data in the application without any sort of restrictions

–       Freedom, meaning that you have full control and visibility into your data and your code for the application.

When you are looking at things claiming to be “Open,” most often the accessibility tenant is what is being implied.

But what about freedom?

This is too often ignored, as it represents a threat to the proprietary way of building and selling software. Companies would rather build a walled garden with small holes in it that you can barely get a glimpse through, as anything more jeopardizes their lock on their customers. And as a customer this hurts even more, as you are stuck in that garden with few to no options for getting out. It takes the control away from you and gives it to the software vendor. It takes the ability to have the application fit your business needs away, making you fit your square peg processes in the round holes they provide.

So when you are shopping for “Open,” make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure that includes both accessibility and freedom. Accept no substitute.




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