It has been fascinating to watch the Alfresco community grow over the last few years. We really had no idea what the shape would be when we started and who would adopt our product and our project. Since 2005, we have been joined by some great world-class companies, household brands and some of the best names in small and medium size businesses. We are very pleased with the adoption of both the open source and enterprise products. What we are puzzled about though is that some of the biggest enterprises in the world (and I mean Fortune 50 and even Fortune 10) are only using the open source version of the product. We have designed our enterprise services specifically to cater to this type of customer.
Some open source systems try to prevent companies using their free version by either crippling their non-enterprise products or by letting their open source versions run into a destabilized state. Back in 2006, we came to the conclusion that we didn't want to hinder the open source version of the product. To hinder the product would make it difficult for certain governments to use our product and would encourage the community to build around imposed limitations. We don't want to provide you with a crippled version, because it doesn't really do the product justice when you try it. And we are trying to provide you with one of the biggest benefits of open source, eliminating lock-in to proprietary software. In fact, in the latest release of Alfresco, we went well out of our way to incorporate many of the changes that we have been putting into place for our enterprise customers into the Labs version of Alfresco.
MySQL has been experimenting with changes to their business model recently that attempts to draw a line on what is fair in open source. After all, it is the revenue that is generated from the enterprise subscription that helps fund, grow and improve the freely available open source version. When Matt, John and I met with Jonathan Schwartz last year, he said that he felt that it is important to have a completely open source core and system, but that in order to have the tools to run MySQL in production or in a high scale, high availability environment, it is only fair to have those tools be available as enterprise and for purchase. Interesting concept, but does it work?
We took some time earlier this year to consider what was fair and what are the core principles to which we want to adhere. We tried to determine where it is right to charge for a service or a function and where do we defend a capability as open source. If we are held to account, these are the principles that I expect we can apply with transparency, consistency and fairness:
- We must insure that customers using our enterprise version are not locked into that choice and that open source is available to them. To that end, the core system and interfaces will remain 100% open source.
- We will provide service and customer support that provides insurance that systems will run as expected and correct problems according our promised Service Level Agreement
- Enterprise customers will receive fixes as a priority, but that we will make these fixes available in the next labs release. Bugs fixed by the community are delivered to the community as a priority.
- We will provide extensions and integrations to proprietary systems to which customers are charged. It is fair for us to charge and include this in an enterprise release as well.
- Extensions and integrations to ubiquitous proprietary systems, such as Windows and Office, will be completely open source.
- Extensions that are useful to monitor or run a system in a scaled or production environment, such as system monitoring, administration and high availability, are fair to put into an enterprise release.
We started with Alfresco 3 to put extensions to proprietary databases such as Oracle or SQL Server into the enterprise release only, while extensions to MySQL, Ingres and other open source databases were available in open source. Now with the Alfresco Enterprise 3.1, we will be adding system monitoring capabilities and easy clustering administration that will only be available as part of the enterprise version. This does not prevent the open source version from being a very usable or even scalable system. However, we believe it provides an incentive for those large enterprises that have not chosen the enterprise system to do so, because it significantly reduces their costs of deployment and scalability, as well as providing them the help and support they need for deployment. These enterprise subscriptions help provide the resources that make a stronger and more functional open source release. The enterprise subscriptions also insure that production systems will be up and running. We still provide this enterprise system at a cost that is still less than 10% of proprietary systems.
We want to make both our enterprise and community users successful. The more people download, install and use the community version successfully, the more they will put it into production and look to an enterprise subscription as an insurance policy for that production system. The enterprise subscription is designed to save time and money and be more cost effective than supporting the labs product yourself. Alfresco is in a unique position to offer this. In all situations, we want our users to be able to choose the best option for them.
We are making these changes in a way that is based on a set of principles that are fair and accountable. We believe in open source and making it freely available and providing choice of not just proprietary systems, but between enterprise and open source. We think the rest of the open source world is heading in a similar direction, because this is what makes open source stronger in the long run. However, we are interested in what you think. Please drop me a line with your thoughts, ideas and concerns.