Why Community Matters

Posted by Tejus Parikh on February 4, 2008

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the source code is the least important aspect of an Open Source project. What matters most is the eco-system of users, support vendors, and corporate backers. The importance of this comes starkly into view when one of the corporate backers for a project you use gets gobbled up by the competitor you migrated away from.

This could potentially be the case with the open-source Exchange alternative, Zimbra. Zimbra was recently bought by Yahoo! for around $35 million, which is currently undergoing a $40+ billion takeover attempt by Microsoft, the makers of Exchange. The merger is really about web-presence and ad networks, Zimbra’s no more than a blimp on the edges of the radar, if it shows up at all. However, if the merger were to occur, it could bode ill for Zimbra’s fate.

This is where an eco-system outside the founding corporate entity become crucial. Yes, the code is available, but who is going to maintain it? Where are new releases going to come from? OSS projects that grew independently before attracting corporate backing, such as the linux kernel, built a varied eco-system specifically because they were not tied to a single vendor. Therefore, we have multiple major Linux distributions, all with different strengths and weaknesses. The Mozilla project lost access to the pocketbook of it’s long time donor, AOL, a few years back, and has survived to this day.

If Microhoo!? becomes a reality, I think the Zimbra team will no longer exist. But the software is useful enough and important enough to attract enough attention to survive. What would be best for Zimbra is for major Linux server vendors started pushing Evolution+Zimbra as a real Outlook+Exchange alternative for smaller to medium companies that are still building their infrastructure and could use a solution that can scale with their enterprise. Novell would be the perfect candidate for this, as they already own the Evolution project and moving in this direction would differentiate their offerings. By taking corporate ownership, it will also keep the hosted providers from being left high and dry.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: