Open source roundtable: Dave Rosenberg

Mulesource CEO views enterprise and VC interest as key indicators of open source's potential to lay claim to the core

Dave Rosenberg, CEO and co-founder of open source SOA infrastructure software vendor Mulesource, is well-versed in capitalizing on open source opportunities in the enterprise, transforming projects into products with viable business models.

InfoWorld spoke to Rosenberg on these and other topics as part of its roundtable on the state of open source. Here's how Rosenberg sees open source's business opportunities evolving.

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Dave Rosenberg

CEO and co-founder
Mulesource

InfoWorld: What do you see as the more pressing challenges and opportunities for open source given the current tech climate?

Rosenberg: In the last five years we’ve seen open source go from geek tools to mainstream applications. The challenge for open source, as with any emerging technology force, is to continue to be innovative while delivering high-quality products. 

I see the current tech climate as ripe with opportunity for open source. With the murky U.S. economy, companies are much less interested in spending huge amounts of their budgets on up-front license fees to proprietary vendors. IT shops are more interested than ever in controlling their fate -- and controlling their destiny.

The shaky economy means that traditional software companies with expensive sales models will become further relegated to the dustbin, as open source distribution puts software closer to customers

IW: Where do you see open source heading in the next five years, especially with regard to development, community, and market opportunities?

Rosenberg: We’ve already seen the open source development model applied to areas far beyond software. We’ve also seen proprietary companies adopt similar development and distribution tactics to get closer to the user base.

I expect wide-scale adoption of open source in mission-critical applications as open source products continue to mature. I also expect the market opportunities to increase as we see more “closed” companies start to move further into open standards and development models.

Open source is no longer a matter of “if” but instead, a matter of “when.”

IW: Does widespread adoption and commercialization of open source software create new challenges or pressures for open source projects?

Rosenberg: Open source “projects” have a much greater possibility of turning into “products” now that enterprises have accepted open source as part of the core infrastructure, and because venture capital firms have been actively funding open source companies.

These do add pressure but also create more opportunity. And since there are now several successful open source business models to look toward, commercialization is becoming much easier.

IW: What are the next steps needed for open source as a software production methodology to reach the next level?

Rosenberg: Some of the tooling associated with group development needs to become more mature and needs to be able to be integrated effectively. Wikis and bug-tracking systems need to be integrated with build systems.

There are frameworks in place now that make distributed development easier, but it’s not yet easy.

IW: Open source now enjoys a rich and complex history, which is largely the result of trial and error over the years. What would you say have been the open source community's greatest missteps, or lessons learned?

Rosenberg: There was no other way for open source to progress without trial and error related to both development and business. The biggest business misstep is probably the obsessive focus on licensing, which, while important, distracted people for way too long.

There are too many lessons learned to count, so I would say that open source projects and companies should have been much more aggressive at proving use cases in mission-critical environments. This has been going on for quite some time but has only started to get noticed in the last year or so.

IW: If you could wave your wand and create the perfect software "universe," what would it look like?

Rosenberg: I believe the future of software is a combination of open source and SaaS. Software consumers are much less interested in building giant applications and instead want to address problems immediately. Open source gives customers control over their infrastructure and SaaS provides instant gratification for applications that have to date been very cumbersome.

In the near term, the key to the universe is open standards and interoperability, which somehow still isn’t ubiquitous.

IW: There has been a fair amount of controversy, competition, and dissent within the various open source communities. Does this lack of agreement damage the long-term goals of open source, or would you like to see more of this?

Rosenberg: I think we have just enough as it stands. One of the interesting psychological aspects of open source is the fact that it brings together very smart, very interested people. In a sense, open source has created a new development civilization that comes with inherent conflict to develop a greater good. Were it not for this conflict, I don’t think we’d be nearly as far as we are today.

Roundtable home page: The state of open source

Other roundtable participants
Matt Asay
Vice president of business development, Alfresco
Andy Astor
CEO of EnterpriseDB
Chris DiBona
Open source programs manager, Google
Bruce Perens
Creator of the Open Source Definition and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative
Sam Ramji
Senior director of platform technology strategy, Microsoft
Eric S. Raymond
Programmer, author, and open source software advocate
Javier Soltero
CEO, Hyperic
Mark Spencer
Founder and CTO, Digium
Robert Sutor
Vice president of open source and standards, IBM
Zack Urlocker
Vice president of products, MySQL

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.