Last week, I made the journey from Washington, D.C., to our new Portland office, or the “Front End Development Capital of Phase2,” as I like to call it. It was an incredibly enjoyable and productive trip, including everything from hanging out with the awesome West Coast Phase2 crew to discussing our vision for growth in Portland over the coming months and years.
While in Portland, I had the pleasure of sharing some great local beer and stimulating conversation at Metal Toad Media headquarters. During an hour-long podcast that provoked many insightful comments and questions, our host Joaquin Lippincott, Metal Toad’s president, led me, Jacob Redding, and David Bellous through a discussion on the merits of open source vs. closed source technologies.
Joaquin got the ball rolling with the aggressive statement that all closed source technology should be torn down and rebuilt with an open source counterpart. Despite each participant’s shared passion for open source, David was cautious about agreeing to such a sweeping declaration, arguing that with enough time and money it is possible to solve any problem with any technology. He placed greater emphasis on finding the tool best suited to a company’s unique cultural ecosystem and specific technical objectives. My take: I fully agree that each situation requires a creative approach to selecting the right tool for the job, taking into account culture, budget, and goals. In my opinion, there are increasingly less times today when a closed source solution is the right fit.
The discussion turned to the issue of sunk costs and opportunity costs. In the context of what Joaquin deemed the “unmitigated disaster” of Oregon’s online healthcare exchange, which was implemented by Oracle, we debated the increasingly outdated perspective that paying more for software automatically translates to better results. I used Microsoft’s collaborative software SharePoint as an example of a widely purchased product with mediocre if not downright poor customer satisfaction. However, when a massive investment is made (like Oregon’s $132 million in CoverOregon), it is difficult for a government or business to cut its losses and start over, no matter how much additional money it stands to lose in the long run.
Innovation, and the process by which open and closed organizations arrive at it, was another fascinating topic of conversation. Jacob pointed out that while Oracle’s annual investment of $5 million in research and development is easy to grasp, the constant aggregated innovation produced by the open source community is a less tangible concept - but no less meaningful. Most of us acknowledged the merits of a defined road map for innovation, which is usually more visible from proprietary companies, but agreed that collaborative methods of development are being embraced by closed and open source organizations alike. It’s a trend that is really exciting for me personally: more companies are losing their "F.U.D." (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about releasing long-kept “secret” code and embracing the clear advantages of open collaboration.
Although Joaquin, Jacob, David, and I covered many other issues, including the advantages of open methodology and the importance of properly executed implementation regardless of the technology, I feel that we’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg in the open vs. closed debate. Altogether it was an extremely enjoyable afternoon (beers included!). Check out the recording at Metal Toad Media, and let me know your thoughts on our discussion. I’d love to hear others weigh in and continue the debate here!