Why Proprietary Vendors Can Be the Better Choice

Paul Mah

After writing a series of blog posts on the various merits of open source software, I thought it would be good to balance matters a little by exploring the advantages that proprietary vendors can bring to the table. And I thought: What better way to explore this topic than talking to someone selling proprietary software.


So I approached Mike Fuller, who is the director of marketing for UK at InterSystems Corporation. Fuller himself pointed out that he will obviously be "biased" as a proprietary vendor. Whatever the case, though, I found Fuller's arguments to be sound and more than a little persuasive on the various merits of proprietary and open source software.


Fuller was kind to grant me permission to share our e-mailed conversations, some key excerpts of which I reproduce below. Text in italics is inserted by me to clarify the context of the statement, and you can find my thoughts below as well.


On licensing cost


Fuller: Obviously if license cost is the sole decision point then we probably will not [win against MySQL]. But any business has to justify its value. Commercial software vendors have to justify their value. We demonstrate superior performance, reliability, cost, service quality, industry knowledge, long-term relationships, different capability... [Referring to Cache here]


Mah: Rather than looking at it from the perspective of monetary cost alone, Fuller is suggesting that SMBs approach the issue using the perspective of the TCO. His rationale is that proprietary vendors will already be working on delivering value that justifies the cost of their products.


On Innovation


Fuller: We innovate in a manner than open source doesn't - though this is not to say open source doesn't innovate. In fact, the innovation profiles and cycles for the two are just different. My guess is that open source can initially present a rapid innovation cycle and then it *might* tail off as rival projects gain ascendancy or the champions get distracted/poached/bored. We have continuously innovated for the past 30 years - and we still have some of the first customers and the software is still around and being supported. Generally, software solutions need to last longer than most people expect. And change is more common than people expect. I think product longevity and future development plans can be more assured in a proprietary vendor, especially a private company such as ours. Open source can deliver the same profile but it's harder to guarantee.


Mah: While obviously not true of every open source project, it would be naive to deny that open source projects are abandoned on a regular basis. Fuller is insinuating that a company with a proven track record of delivering innovation over a mid to long period of time will likely continue to do so.


Popularity of open source projects


Fuller: Finally, measuring the success of software by the number of downloads and users can be dangerous. OS may end up shelf-ware or dropped for another best OS that comes along. Paying for software ensures its use, continued use, and therefore existence and development.


Mah: One "quick and dirty" method of determining the quality of an open source project for me is to check out the download count. Here, Fuller warns that popularity can shift rapidly, pointing out that a proprietary vendor of a revenue-generating product is unlikely to be fickle.


Do you have any comments or thoughts about the above points? Feel free to add to the comments below.



InterSystems Corporation is a global software technology leader with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and offices in 21 countries. InterSystems provides innovative products that enable fast development, deployment, and integration of enterprise-class applications, with a focus on delivering long-term customer satisfaction.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 13, 2009 11:35 AM Mark Leith Mark Leith  says:

I think it really depends on where the software will sit in the stack on whether it is open to the whims of just being replaced by something else, just because it wasn't paid for.

Swapping out the DBMS is not something that is done lightly, for example, for most settled applications (unless it already has a DB abstraction layer already built in). I'm not saying people don't switch between open source databases, but it does seem to happen far less than moving from a proprietary database to an open source one.

Disclaimer: I work in the MySQL team

Aug 17, 2009 11:44 AM Paul Mah Paul Mah  says: in response to Mark Leith

Hi Mark,

I certainly agree that swapping out the DBMS is not something that is done lightly. You mentioned that switching between various open source DBMS happens far less than from a proprietary to an open source one. Would you be able to elaborate more on that?  Thanks!


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