“A Ne­ces­sity That Gave Rise to a Suc­cess­ful Open Source Busi­ness”—

In­dia has many emerg­ing open source busi­ness mod­els, but Liferay is unique. The com­pany that came into ex­is­tence be­cause of the non-avail­abil­ity of an im­por­tant prod­uct is mak­ing money without los­ing its roots in open source tech­nol­ogy. Diksha P Gupta fro

OpenSource For You - - CONTENTS -

Man­ish Gupta, gen­eral man­ager, Liferay In­dia

If you thought mak­ing money out of open source tech­nol­ogy was a tough task, you would be wrong. Be­cause all you need to have is a good con­cept, and a solid strategy to ex­e­cute and com­mer­cialise it. Liferay be­gan as one such con­cept that was then turned into a suc­cess­ful open source busi­ness.

Started by chief soft­ware ar­chi­tect Brian Chan to help the non-profit sec­tor, Liferay was born in 2004. As they say, ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion and Chan’s case was no dif­fer­ent. He was look­ing for a vi­able low-bud­get so­lu­tion to create a web­site for his church. Chan couldn’t find what he was look­ing for, so he thought of cre­at­ing a so­lu­tion for him­self. And that pre­cisely is the power that open source tech­nol­ogy gives to the end user.

Liferay’s flag­ship prod­uct named Liferay Por­tal is a free and open source en­ter­prise Web plat­form with fea­tures to create both sim­ple web­sites as well as com­plex Web plat­forms. Liferay Por­tal is writ­ten in Java, and is a JSR286 com­pli­ant por­tal frame­work which in­cludes a suite of ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing a Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tem, blogs, in­stant mes­sag­ing, mes­sage boards, etc.

The jour­ney that be­gan around 10 years back reached an­other level when the com­pany spread its wings across In­dia. Man­ish Gupta, gen­eral man­ager, Liferay In­dia, of­fers the de­tails about the com­pany’s jour­ney. The very first ques­tion that comes to mind with a project like this is: why did some­one choose to build it on open source? Gupta an­swers: “Un­like cer­tain com­mer­cial open source com­pa­nies today, Liferay Por­tal wasn’t set up with the pur­pose of be­ing a busi­ness but, in­stead, it evolved from the need to serve non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions. In fact, for the first four years (2000-2004), Liferay Por­tal was just an open source project. But in be­ing an open source project, Liferay was able to reap the ben­e­fits of get­ting feed­back and con­tri­bu­tions from the com­mu­nity, some­thing that it would have to­tally missed out on had it been a pro­pri­etary so­lu­tion.”

Open source: No more a niche tech­nol­ogy

Open source has ar­rived but it is still some­times con­sid­ered a niche tech­nol­ogy. Liferay has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on this. Gupta as­serts, “Open source tech­nol­ogy is not as niche as many think. In fact, it is now one of the de facto mod­els to de­velop soft­ware. If we look at the soft­ware de­vel­op­ment land­scape for the Web and the mo­bile, open source is ev­ery­where. As a mat­ter of fact, we at Liferay do not en­counter any is­sues in propos­ing some­thing that is to­tally based on open source. In our view, it is ac­tu­ally a main­stream move­ment now. The open source model, its un­der­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy, and its wide reach and ac­cept­abil­ity is what makes Liferay unique com­pared to a pro­pri­etary model.”

Gupta goes on to elab­o­rate, “Now cus­tomers are al­ready well versed and have adapted to us­ing open source tech­nol­ogy. Most of the time cus­tomers know that they must adopt an open source route be­cause they have seen oth­ers do it suc­cess­fully, or it just makes plain sense to use it com­pared to costlier and closed source im­ple­men­ta­tions. Thus, it is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing eas­ier to con­vince cus­tomers to adopt open source tech­nol­ogy.”

“In the case of Liferay, the dis­cus­sion has moved from ‘Whether or not to use open source tech­nol­ogy,’ to ‘How to use and im­ple­ment open source tech­nol­ogy.’ Cus­tomers now ask us or want to get con­vinced on how Liferay will in­te­grate

with their ex­ist­ing land­scape of pro­pri­etary sys­tems and are quite sur­prised when it does so well,” he adds.

There are chal­lenges too

Al­though Gupta be­lieves that the open source way of de­vel­op­ing soft­ware is now ubiq­ui­tous, there are a few chal­lenges in­volved in the process. He says, “One prom­i­nent chal­lenge is the con­fu­sion re­gard­ing whether open source is free or com­mer­cial in na­ture and why one should opt for the com­mer­cial open source. The truth is that there is great re­spect today among cus­tomers for what open source can achieve. Hence, they are look­ing for ad­vis­ers and or­gan­i­sa­tions that not only have a great open source tech­nol­ogy but can sup­port them in the long run. Par­tic­u­larly in the case of Liferay, there is a great amount of aware­ness and it is spread­ing fast. Our ser­vice part­ners are also play­ing a cru­cial role by spread­ing aware­ness about open source tech­nolo­gies and help­ing the cus­tomers un­der­stand the best way to use our tech­nol­ogy.”

One of the big­gest rea­sons for the growth of the open source busi­ness model is the cost ad­van­tage it pro­vides com­pared to pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy. The other fac­tors help­ing open source are its ease of in­te­gra­tion with other prod­ucts, stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and the qual­ity of the open source prod­ucts. How­ever, there are prob­lems re­lated to it as well, which any busi­ness deal­ing in open source may en­counter. Gupta clar­i­fies, “Cus­tomers of­ten as­sume open source and free soft­ware are the same. That’s where we find it hard to make them un­der­stand the value of the ser­vices of­fered by com­mer­cial open source ven­dors. How­ever, in the last two to three years, the num­ber of such cus­tomers is drop­ping and the num­ber of cus­tomers that are will­ing to adopt open source and pur­chase com­mer­cial open source tech­nol­ogy is steadily ris­ing. The part­ner ecosys­tem that helps build so­lu­tions around open source is also grow­ing by the day. Hence, while there were some dif­fi­cul­ties faced when con­vinc­ing cus­tomers a few years ago about adopt­ing open source, now this task is much eas­ier than ever be­fore. An­other ap­pre­hen­sion that we com­monly en­counter is re­lated to the se­cu­rity as­pect of open source projects. Since the code is avail­able to ev­ery­one, peo­ple think that open source soft­ware is more prone to se­cu­rity at­tacks. But with in­creas­ing aware­ness, things seem to be chang­ing.”

Just as there are al­ways two sides of each story, there are both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive as­pects of any open source busi­ness model. But mak­ing money out of open source tech­nol­ogy is get­ting in­creas­ingly easy now, as­serts Gupta. He says, “I think, it is eas­ier to make money from open source than from pro­pri­etary soft­ware, but I am not sure if you can make a lot of money. The open source con­sumers are highly cost aware and their bud­gets are usu­ally low. There­fore, you will have to jus­tify each penny you are go­ing to charge them.”

Stay­ing con­nected with the com­mu­nity

Even if open source tech­nol­ogy is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness model, a strong link to the com­mu­nity is im­por­tant. Liferay has a buzzing com­mu­nity that vouches for it. Gupta says, “The com­mu­nity is like a demo­cratic voice of the open source prod­uct, and it is easy to see its strengths and weak­nesses and make bet­ter decisions for the busi­ness by lis­ten­ing to what the com­mu­nity is say­ing. There­fore, it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to have a good com­mu­nity around your open source tech­nol­ogy. We at Liferay are very thank­ful to our com­mu­nity for its sup­port. Many of our new fea­tures, en­hance­ments and bug fixes have been contributed by our com­mu­nity and their con­tri­bu­tions have al­ways helped us in de­liv­er­ing the best qual­ity re­leases of our prod­uct. I be­lieve that no open source project can grow to a sig­nif­i­cant size without an ac­tive com­mu­nity. Apart from code con­tri­bu­tion, the com­mu­nity has also given us many of our col­leagues at Liferay. I, too, was part of the com­mu­nity be­fore join­ing Liferay.”

Tip for an open source busi­ness

To be suc­cess­ful in an open source busi­ness, an or­gan­i­sa­tion should of­fer a very good prod­uct that ful­fills a unique space and meets di­verse needs. This al­lows the tech­nol­ogy to be used in dif­fer­ent ways and, thereby, in­vites in­creased adop­tion. In­creased adop­tion it­self means good busi­ness, as there will al­ways be enough buy­ers will­ing to pay for open source sup­port and part­ners will­ing to in­vest in the tech­nol­ogy.

Man­ish Gupta, gen­eral man­ager, Liferay In­dia

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