Andrew Grant's blog

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In Through the Out Door

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OK, so it’s tough out there, what did you expect? Yet a FOSS start-up needs to get customers and big corporates need innovative ideas like never before. We really “get” global competition now and if we aren’t selling something useful or making it in the most efficient way then someone else is going to be eating from our Bento box.

Clichés aside for a moment, consider this; start-ups use open source software to bootstrap themselves -- they have an idea, they have a rough guess at product-market fit and they work on a prototype. Guess what, they may have misjudged the demand. They think, in fact they’re certain, there’s a market out there for their product/service but they just don’t know for sure exactly what is going to be required to make it a viable, buyable product.

Only when you leave: Exit Strategies and Pre-Nups

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Regular readers will be aware that lock-in is a favourite topic for comparing and contrasting with Open Source licensing schemes. Lock-in can occur in a number of ways from the subtle to the insidious. Making the move from an existing vendor to FOSS may be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship but also could mean a breakdown in the formerly cosy relationship with your previous partner. Indeed it's only when you leave that that you can see the value of a well thought through exit strategy and maybe even a pre-nup. As always, let the buyer beware – and here are a few examples of lock-in to consider.

Let a thousand flowers bloom...or be trampled under foot?

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It's 4 a.m., dark outside, the phone rings, your mobile goes off, you're in a convention hotel an ocean away from home in a different time zone. The server's fallen over, you need to bounce it remotely from a thousand miles away. You have to take the server down and bring it back up then restart the application. Good job the hotel has a connection and you have a signal.

Enterprise consolidation around a limited number of apps or one stack causes complications. It makes sense in terms of reducing support costs and ensuring that people are skilled up to the appropriate levels in the chosen software, yet this can stifle innovation. Instant access to new FOSS apps (without complex financial and procurement negotiations) stimulates new ideas, development opportunities and low/no cost prototyping for rapid application development.

The Dream Inspires - The Transfer Summit

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I still find it inspirational that meeting each other at conferences and watering holes can spark off whole new lines of thought.
The Transfer Summit was a great example of this - professional but relaxed in an evocative setting that allowed hackers/developers, journalists, business and acadaemia to interact with a real level of informality. Getting together not only to exchange information but to challenge orthodoxy and generate ideas - and was well attended by luminaries from Red Hat (Phil Andrews) Simon Phipps and our own Stormy Peters, Andrew Back and Martin Michlmayr (and no, he doesn't always wear that baseball shirt with the blue sleeves.)


Metaphysical Detectives and Emotional Spies

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In one recent deal we were left with the thorny problem of Indemnity and who pays for it. Typically, if you are using proprietary code you are buying a pig in a poke (buying something in a black sack that the vendor says will do  the job). The case of indemnity arises if a patent troll claims ownership and then sues the user for a multi-million dollar sum. The legal team then refers to the contract and points the troll's complaint at the software vendor who defends the claim (on the basis they know what's in the software and where it came from because they "own" it.)

Now, it gets more complicated when companies acquire companies who acquire other companies who may have mashed together their apps over time. The enterprise needs to make sure it is not open to legal risk yet this places the burden of cost for defence and code parentage on the vendor - another cost that would need to be borne by Open Source vendors when dealing with the Enterprise.