In Commercial Open Source, Partners = Community


What wowed me most at the Pentaho Global Partner Submit (#PGPS in Twitter) was, well.. the partners, or the partner program, I should say.

Back in the day, when we submitted our open source projects to sourceforge – we would sit there checking the number of downloads almost every minute, obsessing over the daily downloads and sourceforge ranking. A lot of this was driven by (besides the desire to be famous and get geek cred) the belief that more downloads = larger community = more “contribution” from the community.

This did not turn out to be true.

And not just for us, but for most open source enterprise applications out there, number of downloads has nothing to do with community participation. For that, you have to go beyond the realms of sourceforge forums and tracker – and actually actively build a community.

How do you do that? Well, after spending 2 days at PGPS, I am deeply impressed how great of a job Pentaho has done in building a thriving community via their partnership program. What we expected back in the day from our downloaders, Pentaho is exactly getting that from their partners. Partners are writing new features (e.g. Community Dashboard Framework, integration to CMS, single sign on, etc etc), they are fixing major bugs, they are writing books, they are even actively participating in shaping the roadmap. Simply amazing!

Whether this is a phenomenon unique to “commercial open source” – we don’t know, but look – for almost every enterprise open source project, at some point, reality kicks in, and we have to worry about monetization – so many of us become “commercial”. Of course, that immediately brings a tension between the users of the “free” version versus the “premium” version – as in, “why did you put feature ABC only in premium, and not in the free one, you greedy capitalistic pig?”

Well, one answer – “free” doesn’t pay the bills, “premium” does. “Free” is also probably justifiable if there was some contribution, but as we have seen – most of the people download and use open source for free, but they don’t contribute anything. Over time, this becomes unbearably taxing for the core developers of the open source project.

But amazingly, you can get more contributors to your “premium” version (and “free” version as well by extension) if you build a great partnership program around it like Pentaho has done. This is because not only the “premium” version pays Pentaho’s rent, it also helps their partners to pay their rent as well.

So yes, this isn’t the good old open source where it was all about freedom, peace, and love. This one is definitely about the money, but the twist is — it does share the wealth AND the open source bit makes it much easier for partner to participate and contribute. And in doing so, it brings back the extremely sought-after “community contribution” back in the game, which is the life/death factor for any open source project.

So Pentaho Β – hats off to you guys for showing how to build a thriving community around commercial open source via a great partner program. Don’t ever go to the dark side πŸ™‚

10 thoughts on “In Commercial Open Source, Partners = Community”

  1. Nice post. πŸ™‚

    I would like to point out one small caveat to your comments. The community does have a lot of people who are CE only folk and the community has some of the EE folk. Interestingly you will find some companies (Webdetails, Xpand-IT to name a couple) where you get a lot of their employees helping out in every aspect of community life, forum posts, irc channel, blogs etc. But on the flip side there are an awful lot of Pentaho partners who are exactly that, partners and you never see of hear anything from them, which to be honest is very disappointing.

    The community is very open, warm and welcoming, and Doug Moran has done an absolutely fantastic job in keeping us all interested and feeling like we’re part of a team so for that I do congratulate Pentaho.

    On the flip side, if you are a Pentaho partner reading this, I hope you take the time to swing by and see what we have in the community. The support is great, the conversation is better. Partners don’t just have to meet up a few times a year in different parts of the globe to call it a community, it is very much an ongoing and evolving process which takes time and nurturing.



    1. Thanks for the feedback Tom, and also providing a perspective on CE only side of the picture. Doug Moran, obviously, is *the man* πŸ™‚

      There will be no EE if there is no CE. The fact that Pentaho has a system to enable “community” to monetize their work with Pentaho is what makes the contributions more likely to come into both CE and EE. But I absolutely agree with you that it is an ongoing and evolving process — though you will have to grant that meeting your fellow community face-to-face at cool venues like San Francisco is pretty fun and “nurturing” as well πŸ™‚

  2. Sandeep Giri – I’d ask, do you realise that the community has been meeting face-to-face in this way, in even cooler venues, for the last 3 years in Europe? I suspect a lot of people, probably a fair proportion of the partners too dont realise this. The meets have exactly the same benefits – ability to share ideas, find out inside information and generally network.. (Plus there’s a fair bit of drinking and general tomfoolery)

    1. Hi Dan – I honestly did not realize that, so thanks for pointing out. Is it just a European thing that we are missing out here in US? πŸ™‚ — perhaps someone state-side can enlighten me. I do see Pentaho User Groups listed on Pentaho website, but I must admit I haven’t followed up with their meetups

  3. No probs! Not sure why the US hasnt had community meets so far. Although there has been suggested a big meet in brazil.. (closer than europe for you, but maybe not that much!)

    There are 2 scales of meet too – the local usergroups are small and new – e.g. in london we generally get about 10-15 people and we meet once a month.

    the yearly community meet is much larger and we get 50 or more people every year! You’ll have to come over this year – it’s usually around September! The yearly meet is well supported by Pentaho too with all the architects etc.

    It may be true to say the community meet is more technical too – although i’m not 100% sure thats fair as not sure of the exact content at pgps.

    Finally, check out this blog to see what we got up to in 2010 πŸ™‚

  4. Sandeep –

    It was great to see you again! Good article and yes, the partner ecosystem is really starting to take off and push way beyond just consulting. Tom is spot on, in pointing out that the line is blurring between community, partners and even customers. Some of the most knowledgable Pentaho people on the planet started in the Pentaho Community community and are using CE.

    From very early on, our philosophy has been that community members are individual people and customers/partners are companies. By making that distinction, everyone is welcome in the community and pretty much start out equal. Individuals gain status in the community based on their skills and participation. If you are a community member and get hired by a partner or your company becomes a customer, it doesn’t effect your standing in the community.

    I second Tom’s challenge to our partners – or more precisely, to the people who work for our partners, to become participants in the community. Not only will you be helping to grow a stronger and more diverse Pentaho ecosystem, you will find your place among the hardest working, smartest and nicest people in business intelligence.

    By the way, the Europeans do seem to be way ahead of North America in the social aspects of Community. We have had three Pentaho Community Gatherings over the last three years. There is a European user group, a London User Group and more are popping up. We are trying to kick off groups in the US but are off to a slow start. So – I have a second challenge to the North American community members – lets organize some meetups!

    Here are some links to pictures from the past three gatherings:

    2010 Cascais, Portugal:

    2009 Barcelona Spain:

    2008 Mainz Germany

    Sorry if I hijacked your blog, but this stuff gets me really excited πŸ™‚


  5. Hi Sandeep,

    Great to read about Pentaho on this site…Do I have to conclude that Pentaho is the base platform your willing to use for Openi3 (if there is still an OpenI 3 version planned) ?

    I must say that – though I haven’t been trying to hard on Pentaho – I still prefer the lightness, easy-to-use and look&feel of Openi far better than Pentaho. But I’ll effectively have to switch to other alternative if OpenI doesn’t move on…

    Thanks for keeping us posted on Openi’s future.


    1. Hi Noblomov

      OpenI as a “BI platform” on its own will discontinue. We will do a 2.0 general release just so we don’t stay in RC mode forever, but that will probably be the last “platform release”

      Going forward, we plan to use Pentaho and/or JasperServer as our base platform (and others as applicable). The approach is to release “OpenI plug-ins” for Jasper and Pentaho — so that those platforms behave/appear in a manner very similar to OpenI. In other words, if you deploy Pentaho or Jasper with OpenI plug-in, you will get the lightness, easy-to-use look-and-feel, plus features that are unique to OpenI that are not available in Jasper or Pentaho (such as exploring cube data). We may also have to create our own installers that makes their installation/deployment process easier.

      So – that’s the general direction. The first step in this is to release plug-ins. We’ll start with Jasper by replacing their JasperAnalysis interface (which is basically JPivot as-is) with OpenI interface, so stay tuned for that. Pentaho already has efforts underway to replace JPivot UI (2 different approaches though – their open source version has Pentaho Analysis Tool (going through a rewrite at the moment), and proprietary version Pentaho Analyzer which is pretty decent) — so not sure, how much value-add will it be to put OpenI’s UI as a Pentaho plug-in, but there might be other features that may be better suited for an OpenI plug-in for Pentaho.

      Pentaho is pretty impressive because they take a platform approach, not just a reporting server. So even though each individual component may not be as fully developed as it needs to be – architecturally I think they have a sound approach. The work we will do with Pentaho will be more along the lines of how can we make it easier to use – whether that will be via plug-ins, or embedding Pentaho in our own build, we will try that out and see what makes sense.

      As always, I greatly appreciate your support of OpenI’s vision and your thoughtful comments, and look forward to ongoing feedback for our work with OpenI.



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