10 Reasons Other Open Source Projects Are Not Your Enemy

ostutorialsThis post has been a long time coming … like almost everything on my blog these days 🙂

It’s a rant of sorts and a little over the top, but it sums up what I’ve been thinking for a while.

During 2010, I’ve listened to presentations and read blogs and tweets where people have been talking about other Open Source projects as their rivals. The attitude manifests itself with comments like this:

  • “Our CMS really needs to compete with and beat their CMS” or,
  • “Our CMS is like wine and theirs is like Mountain Dew”

This has been going on in all directions: between Drupal and Joomla, WordPress and Drupal and also Joomla and WordPress.  

I think this attitude is misguided and here’s why:

1) We’re a LAMP Industry, Not a Joomla, Drupal or WordPress Industry

  • “What is PHP? Is it a compiled language?”
  • “I’ve never used anything except Windows servers. Do I need to move?”

These are types of questions we get all the time from developers in large organizations. There is still very little PHP, Apache and Linux experience out there in the corridors of government and large companies. A major project falling into the hands of one Open Source project is not a loss for the others.

Each time an organization chooses one Open Source project, that opens the door for all the others:

2) Its Often And Not Either / Or

Many organizations are adopting Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. In the last three months, we’ve recently worked with three major international organizations and each one is adopting all three platforms.

We had people from one major African organization come to a Drupal class, a Joomla class and then sit down with us for WordPress training. eBay choose Joomla for one major project but they also use Drupal. A rarity? Burger King, McDonalds, the Linux Foundation, the United Nations, the British Government and lots of others use both Drupal and Joomla. 

3) They’re All Playing Different Games

Here are three quotes from key people in each area, explaining the goal of each platform:

  • WordPress: “It’s all about the author”
  • Joomla: “Joomla favours the “off-the-shelf” market.”
  • Drupal: “The practical reality is that Drupal’s primary target audience is Drupal consulting shops.”

There’s some overlap, but in general those are very different niches.

I hear some talk at the moment about Drupal wanting to compete with WordPress and Joomla for the mass market and for WordPress and Joomla to compete with Drupal for big contracts. To be honest, they’re not even playing the same game.

For Drupal to reach the mass market, it would probably need at least three things:

  1. a radically overhauled and stripped down blogging distribution
  2. a thriving commercial market in modules and templates 
  3. a large pool of cheap developers.

The first is possible, but I doubt the Drupal community wants either of the other two.

For WordPress and Joomla to be competing with Drupal for $500,000 contracts they’d need to change the way they do business more than their underlying code. At the moment WP and Joomla companies mainly try to sell 10,000 products every month for $50. It’s a huge and difficult task to move away from that and chase one $500,000 contract per month.

4) Don’t use the Hammer / Nail Solution

Here are some people we’ve met in 2010:

  • Several very frustrated people who wanted simple blogs and instead got Drupal from their developers. It was way over their heads. Right choice: Joomla or WordPress.
  • Developers whose bosses insisted on WordPress. Their needs were complex enough that they had to ignore it and built their own systems with minor integration into WP. Right choice: Joomla or Drupal.
  • A major organization that tried to create a multi-site environment with Joomla and ended costing themselves thousands of dollars. Right choice: WordPress or Drupal.

Most of the time the project was sent in the wrong direction because someone was an XYZ developer or worked for an XYZ shop. They had a hammer and so every client problem looked like a nail.

5) It’s About Principles Not Brand Names

I love Joomla, but it’s not the reason I got into this industry – I’m sure most of you are the same. You value doing business in a open, sharing and community-focused manner. The tools we ended up using to enact those principles were a secondary choice.

We should be advancing principles, not brand names.

6) We’ve All Taken Lots of Ideas From Each Other

Look at your favorite CMS and you’ll see lots of ideas from other platforms:

  • Look at all of Joomla’s CCK systems, taking ideas from Drupal.
  • Look at WordPress moving into the CMS world with custom-post types which are essentially CCK-lite.
  • Look at many Drupal themes with ideas and even block positions (User 1, User 2 etc) taken straight from Joomla.

Your favorite CMS would be much poorer without the others.

7) It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game

It’s silly to focus on taking market share from other Open Source projects. Currently the big three CMSs are about 10% of the web. It would be highly disappointing if that figure was still 10% in 2011 or 2012. The growth has to come from elsewhere. From where? From closed-sourced vendors.

8) There are Better Targets

Closed-source vendors are our real rivals. It often seems that people feel more comfortable attacking other Open Source projects than they do attacking closed-source vendors. When you think about attacking another FOSS project, put on your big boy pants and go after a company that doesn’t share your principles.

For example, kudos to Drupal for taking on Jive and WordPress for vanquishing Windows Live Spaces. Those are great targets for the Open Source industry.

9) Sharing Goes Beyond Your Own Community

It seems silly to me to talk about collaboration and community if we see other Open Source communites as our rivals.

Fortunately there people out there like Hagen Graf who’s writing a Droopress series at http://cocoate.com that will become a book. He presented on all three at Drupalcon Copenhagen.

Fortunately there are also events like the CMSExpo and OpenCamp where different communities and produces rub shoulders.

See if you can make it to one of those events or even an event entirely run by a different community.

I’ll put my money where my mouth is: my schedule in early 2011 includes Joomla Day New England, Drupalcon in Chicago and WordCamp Atlanta.

10) Your Thoughts?

OK, I fell one short, but would love to hear your thoughts on the interactions between Open Source communities …

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