June 14, 2004

Open source content management partnerships are a promising sign

Author: Jay Lyman

The tide may be turning in favor of open source software for content management. Last month Computer Associates (CA) announced it was establishing partnerships with Zope and Plone, two open source content management organizations. CA is also releasing its Ingres database, which will be available as a repository for Zope and Plone, as open source. We asked Zope and Plone what the new partnerships mean for the open source community.

From Zope's point of view, the integration with CA's Ingres database will
be "a big win for customers," Zope Corp. CEO Rob Page said in an email
response to NewsForge.

"While our flat-file object database performs very well, it still requires a reasonable amount of explanation and referencing to make enterprise customers comfortable. On some operating systems, there are file-size limitations that our current object database can run up
against. Integrating with CA's Ingres database will remove the theoretical
objections to our flat-file database, remove the file size limitations, and
add a full suite of tools from CA that will aid with real-time backup and
restore, replication, etc."

Zope said its new open source relational database management module,
which relies on its Adaptable Persistence Engine (APE), will facilitate support
with other RDBMSes, although the company is focused now primarily on the CA
initiative.

"Since the resulting work between CA and Zope Corp. will be open
sourced, anyone else will be able to use the same framework and adapt and
tune that code for whatever relational database they choose," Page said in the email. "Zope can already read data from any relational database and can
even persist its own objects to a relational database, but the latter is a
highly inefficient persistence mechanism at the moment. The work with CA
will make relational persistence a first tier choice for Zope objects."

Market prospects growing for open source content management

Forrester senior analyst Bob Markham says the customization ability and flexibility are distinct advantages of open source content management systems when compared to closed source alternatives.

Open source content management generally takes two different approaches aimed at two different markets, according to Markham. Web content management (WCM) applications, Markham said, are aimed at the small to medium business market, while frameworks are needed to reach the larger players.

Markham said WCM has not been a hot market, and the open source groups who develop for it have been limited to small uptake. "That may change if vendors are able to aim for outsourcing solutions," Markham said. "In WCM, that makes a lot of sense."

WCM has made a lot of sense for vendors Crown Peak and Atomz, whose proprietary applications have taken the lion's share of the market. However, that share could increasingly go to open source vendors, according to Markham.

With its roots in publishing and entertainment, WCM has been the basis of
some off-the-shelf software from medium and larger-sized players, but the
real traction for open source in this market has been in Europe, Markham
said.

"They have been much more aggressive in pursuing open source solutions
than [companies] in North America," Markham said. "Much of it has to do with
legislation. They've been more aggressive in saying there's an advantage to
open source through legislation.

On the other end of the process from WCM is the framework software used to build custom CMS applications. "The frameworks, which provide the infrastructure to build WCM solutions, are very tunable for large organizations," Markham said. "There is a need to provide custom implementation here," he added, referring to major sites such as Boston.com and AARP.

Despite its advantages, Markham said open source has been held back by licensing issues. Because of the "restrictive" nature of the GPL, which requires making changes and customization public, vendors have moved to the LGPL, which takes a more lenient approach and allows internal changes and customization to be kept internal, according to Markham. "It makes the legal people a little more at ease," he said.

Commercial licenses that are typically variants of the BSD model have
also resulted in special contracts between vendors and open source adopters,
helping to drive more acceptance, Markham added. "They also provide security and added benefit to open source providers," he said.

Even after open source vendors have overcome the usual issues of
apprehension and licensing, they still face the fact that an effective,
profitable business model has yet to fully emerge, Markham said. "There isn't a good model to make money at this yet."

The search for a business model is taking shape, however, with the Cocoon
open source content management application, which is built from an Apache
server base. "Instead of a vendor selling updates and maintenance agreements, the Cocoon community is built out of good developers making specific solutions based on
the framework," Markham said. "It has more value-add."

The analyst said similar models, such as that of Plone, are emerging as a result. Plone is an out-of-box-ready content management system built on Zope Application Server. "Plone is a response to where they saw Cocoon was going," Markham said. "It actually makes a lot of sense." Cocoon also now provides Lenya, an incubating Web content management framework based on Cocoon.

The other key factor heretofore missing for open source in content management, Markham said, is the need for a repository for disparate sources and stores of content. Repository software will become an increasingly important part of the overall enterprise content management solution.

Open source companies and groups appear to be realizing this, as
evidenced by Computer Associates' (CA) new partnerships with Zope and Plone. Markham said he expects to see more open source projects partnered with proprietary repositories.

"They're basing their repositories on something that has a future, as
opposed to something that is customized and may not have a future," he said.
"Even though [CA] doesn't have critical mass for its [Ingres] database, [releasing Ingres as open source] is a move to giving confidence that people will be supported in the long term."

Not all things to all companies

Zope, which provides software ranging from free to enterprise-class
products that still come with all of the source code, said any-sized company
with a content management problem may benefit from a Zope-based product in
one way or another.

"There are three dimensions that people must evaluate when considering a
CMS: cost, time, and complexity -- both of building and of maintaining the
system. You can download Zope and the Content Management Framework and build it yourself. If you are already a Zope expert, then you will likely be able to get the system running pretty quickly. If you aren't, and time is an issue, there are hundreds of companies offering Zope services, including Zope Corp."

"You can also start with a commercial product (horizontal or vertical)
from Zope Corp., and customize it further if needed," Page said.
"This solves [the time issue] by allowing companies to get up and running,
and [the third issue], where the complexity might already be factored
correctly in one of our commercial vertical applications like Zope4Media or
Zope4Edu, etc."

While CA senior vice president and chief architect of CA's Linux
Technology Group Sam Greenblatt indicated the collaboration was the first of
many to come, Page said Zope was not prepared to announce additional
initiatives yet.

"But suffice it to say that there are a lot of initiatives underway at CA
that make a lot of sense to us at Zope Corp., and to the extent that
collaboration can get useful products into customers' hands more quickly,
both companies are committed to making that happen," Page said.

"Having a system, at least the broadest base of the code, in the open
ensures that it can run on the maximum number of systems and solve the
maximum number of problems out there," Page said. "As feedback returns from
the community, the base evolves, making it that much more attractive."

However, Page added, even competitive companies in the same
industry often organize their content management systems and workflows in
dramatically different ways, meaning that there is rarely a one-size-fits-
all, out-of-the-box system.

"Open source solutions permit customers to spend their dollars on the
specific customizations that make strategic or tactical sense to them,
without spending tons of money on features they don't need, or can't change
even if they want or need to," Page added.

Foundation for framework

While Zope is looking to make its technology compatible with relational
databases to meet enterprise needs, open source CMS provider Plone has announced it has established a foundation as a support organization aimed at promoting Plone while protecting its open source roots. The foundation, funded by Computer Associates, will have its "primary focus on marketing, evangelism, and legal issues."

"Plone has passed through a growth point and is clearly an attractive
place for new kinds of developers and companies," said Plone's Paul Everitt
and Joel Burton in an email to NewsForge. "We have to preserve what made
Plone successful in the first place. We also need to advocate Plone in the
mainstream, thus growing the Plone economy for the independent consultants
that made Plone successful."

The Plone pair said that with a foundation the community will get a
sustainable, long-term owner of "the commons" as well as a shared voice for
internal decision-making and for external advocacy.

"From this, we expect Plone to grow as a product and gain the presence
and features needed to scale upwards and outwards into the new and larger
markets," they said.

Everitt and Burton said the content management market is "more
dysfunctional than other markets," explaining that while people do not write
their own Web servers, the market leader in CMS is the do-it-yourself
system.

"Open source CMS helps scratch that same itch, while avoiding the
downsides of build instead of buy," they said.

Plone's people said that although an open source project can provide a strong
developer base, it is difficult to provide equally strong marketing and
"commercially acceptable support mechanisms."

"The Plone community has work to do in gaining credibility in the market
against commercial competitors, and providing support plans that meet the
needs of larger businesses," they said.

There are advantages to open source, however, and Plone's representatives
argued that open source solutions lower the risk of evaluation -- "you can
download it and try it, you can subscribe to mailing lists and see the good
and bad in all its naked glory" -- and also ease accessibility.

"These are organizations that are being directed to support open source,
such as public administrations, education, health care and non-government
organizations," the pair said. "Since these are large institutions with
complex needs, they are a good fit for content management, and
philosophically favor open source content management. They also can't
justify big capital expenses."

At the same time, according to Plone, there is a big "in-between" market
in content management, Everitt and Burton said.

"These are projects that are too small for the big boys, but too big for
the small boys," they said. "This is the sweet spot for open source CMS, in
our opinion. Over time, the upper bound on this will rise as open source
attracts more enterprise CMS features and more upper-scale integrators and
consultants. For Plone, CA's involvement in Plone and the Plone Foundation
is evidence of the upper bound moving up."

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