“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
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