Open source licensing was all the rage among content technologies in the early 2000s. In the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) segment, that's when we saw Alfresco and Nuxeo leap into the fray. As commercial open source offerings they anticipated a business model that would work well for Acquia and Automattic/WordPress in the WCM segment. But since then, neither vendor has dominated the ECM marketplace. What does this mean?
Here's a quick update on both platforms. Nuxeo seems to have escaped ECM to pursue more marketing-oriented Digital Asset Management (DAM) use cases. Alfresco lingers in perpetual pre-IPO state, albeit with relative fresh (2014) venture cash, so it can keep going for awhile. Both vendors are still ticking along nicely, but neither is tearing up the tracks, and among our subscribers, interest has plateaued.
What's going on? I think there's several reasons neither platform hit lift-off:
- Neither could supplant SharePoint, and unlike some competitors, they chose not to really supplement Redmond's offering either
- The open source model works well for developing toolkits and platforms, but doesn't always succeed at creating vertical-specific, read-to-wear products, which is what many customers ended up wanting to buy
- The rapid rise of cloud file synch + share vendors stalled their momentum a bit
- Both vendors tended to pursue meandering roadmaps (sometimes a curse of VC funding)
- Doubtless there are other reasons...
Lessons for You the Customer
What lessons can we draw? First, evaluate open source tools the same way as commercial (see our tips). Business and license models are converging in any case.
I still like the open source approach to developing infrastructure services (operating systems, databases, appservers, et. al.) But when it comes to process-oriented business services, don’t focus intently on the license model. Instead ask if the toolset solves a problem today, with minimal developer intervention. In the ECM market, fortunately, you have many choices.
Meanwhile, if you want to see a deep-dive evaluation of Alfresco, that's the free chapter in our ECM research. Download it here.