Open Source Crosses Chasm

Companies seeking innovation will gather participants to create a whole product.

In a recent column, Jim Rapoza bemoans the lack of innovative solutions from large technology vendors and the risks of relying on small companies due to their potential for business failure or acquisition. He overlooks one segment of the software industry in which innovation is alive and well: the open-source community.

Open-source solutions let organizations implement innovative solutions without supplier risk. However, the open-source community delivers innovation in a way different from traditional software suppliers.

In Geoffrey Moores groundbreaking work, "Crossing the Chasm," he writes that innovative technology faces a challenge in gaining mainstream acceptance. Early adopters of technology seek business advantage via nascent technology and are willing to live with its limits: poor documentation, support and training and lack of widespread adoption of the technology as an industry best practice.

To gain market acceptance, a technology must be a "whole product," with documentation, support, training and a large user community. An innovator must flesh out its product, build staff and offer ancillary programs for such things as business development. Moore says this is the key challenge for most growing technology providers. The discontinuous change that companies undergo is what he calls the "chasm" they must cross for a technology to be widely adopted.

Many companies have built their strategic plans around Moores observations, and analyses of failed market offerings have focused on the whole-product shortcomings of the offerings. Today, however, open source has grown to a user base of big corporations and governments. It has become a central part of the IT strategy of many companies—without any company delivering the whole product. If youre considering an open-source solution and want a whole product, what should you do?

Since no single vendor offers an open-source whole product, companies seeking innovation will take the initiative of putting together a group of participants to create a whole product. Like movie producers, they will tap a pool of independent resources to create a product. Many specialized suppliers offer parts of the open-source whole product and can help create a solution without the risk of supplier failure or acquisition. There are publishing companies that create excellent documentation, and technical support is available from many open-source companies and from product-focused mailing lists. Put on the producers hat and think like Steven Spielberg!

Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica, a systems integration company in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send your comments to