Imagine you’re a kid, your friend is building a brick house made of Legos. You join in and decide to build an extension to his house. It would be only logical you use Legos just like he did, but what if he wouldn't share his Legos? You’d have to come up with another solution to build the extension. This will prove to be time consuming, expensive and worst of all, the result will most likely be less efficient than what it could've been had your friend shared his Lego bricks in the first place.
In all its playfulness, the above described situation is an analogy of real corporate competition. But it is not, however, how things work in the world of open source.
Open source software has been brought to wider public attention by brands like Linux and Firefox, both of which who have thrived to gigantic proportions due to their open nature. The concept of open source is quite simple and Wikipedia essentializes it quite well:
“Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available and licensed with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose”
Why would a software company reveal their source code though? Wouldn't that jeopardize their business?
Turns out it can do quite the opposite.
We got a hold of Fredrik Rönnlund, VP of Marketing at Vaadin, a software start up from Finland that’s behind the open source Vaadin application development tools.
The Vaadin web app tools are designed for creating interactive applications that run in the browser, without any plugins. Basically, its server-driven architecture together with a reusable component model is used to simplify programming of applications and for better web application security. Or in short - Vaadin provides the tools for developers to easily and fastly build reliable applications for mostly enterprise usage.
Rönnlund explained how the benefits of open sourcing ones software product can cause a chain of reactions that will spread out the products usage almost unintentionally.
“Since there are no legal aspects in using free open source software, developers won’t have to sell the product when recommending it to other developers. They can also implement its usage into their companies without asking permission and in many cases this has taken Vaadin to many unexpected places”
When asked why open source, the answer was basically the same: the spread of the Vaadin tools as an open source product is much quicker and seamless, even up to 1000% faster when compared to software build by proprietary companies.
Other than spread of use, having open sourced software leaves much more space for a supporting community of developers, which works as sort of a backup generator if fatal failures in the code come to life.
And should the mother company go bankrupt, their legacy will live on in the hands of others, which holds harm to no one.
Of course, in end of the game, its easy to go all open source on your software and think that’s what’s going to do the job of spreading out your brand across the seas. But that’s not how it works.
A deeper look at the Vaadin product and website structure reveals an extremely transparent company that reeks of no bull. Not an experienced developer myself, its hard for me to say how good and useful the Vaadin web app tools actually are but according to Vaadin, the company reached $9 million in annual revenues last year and they have plenty of showcases from all corners of the world, so their tools can’t be from the worst end.
The product is free however, which leaves us to wonder how does the company make that money? Well, in addition to the pro tools package ($35/developer/month) that will grant developers with better weaponry for web app construction, Vaadin offers different levels of customer support, training and consultancy. Being also among the major players and connoisseur in the field of the GWT framework, Vaadin has organized large conferences around the matter in the US and Europe.
The Vaadin application development tools are used by tens of thousands of Java developers in more than 170 countries. The company employs over 70 Vaadin and GWT experts and though the company's HQ is in Finland, they have offices in Silicon Valley and the Frankfurt metropolitan area.