Floss Plone Information

October 4, 2010

I have been listening to podcasts when at the gym. New to the podcast world, I have been downloading programs to try and find out which ones have consistent, solid content. Yesterday I listened to Floss Weekly Number 137: Plone, produced by an outfit called Twit. You can get the show and information about Twit from the company’s Web site at http://twit.tv. I was surprised with the information revealed on this particular podcast, hosted by Randal Schwartz (aka merlyn), a Perl expert.

The guest on the program to which I listened was Alexander Limi, former Googler, employee at Mozilla, and user experience specialist for Plone. If you are not familiar with Plone, it is an open source content framework. You can use it to create content for industrial strength applications like the FBI and Discover Web sites. For more information about Plone, navigate to http://plone.org/.

I have no solid information about the accuracy of this particular podcast. I do want to highlight two points made in the podcast because I don’t want them to slip away.


The first point concerns Microsoft SharePoint. On the podcast I heard that Microsoft is not really selling or licensing SharePoint. Instead the model is shifting to providing the software and relying on services to generate revenue. I will have to poke around to find out if this is an early warning of a shift in the SharePoint business model or if there are only certain situations in which Microsoft is providing access to SharePoint in this way. The reason this is important is that SharePoint is, in my opinion, the fertile soil of an ecosystem that supports quite a few third-party vendors. These range from Microsoft Certified Partners who produce software that snaps in or overlays SharePoint. Example range from European vendors like Fabasoft to US firms like BA-Insight. In addition, there are many engineers who take some Microsoft classes and then support themselves making SharePoint work as the licensee requires. The notion of a “free” SharePoint or even a low cost SharePoint can explain why so many English majors, unemployed journalists, and third string business school MBAs are vociferously marketing their SharePoint expertise. This is a big ecosystem and it is going to get even bigger. I documented a study that suggested some SharePoint installations were challenges. The pricing implications are significant and the outlook for companies which can actually make SharePoint work are significant as well. I think most of the SharePoint snap in vendors could still be walking on a knife edge. The reason is that big accounts will be sucked up by Microsoft itself. Why let that revenue go to those who cultivated the cornfield? Just like big agriculture, the small farmer gets an opportunity to find a new future.

The second point concerned the discussion about the number of people who actually support open source software. In the podcast, Mr. Limi suggested that there were lots of people working on Plone. When questioned by Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Limi revealed two interesting but at this time unverified factoids:

  1. Most open source software projects have five developers who work on the core of the program. Plone, if I heard correctly, has more than 100. Why the disparity? I think the issue may suggest that open source software may be much more vulnerable to the lost of two or three key people than many people in Harrod’s Creek realize. From a strategic point of view, a person with a big basket of money could hire a handful of key people and gain some influence over the viability of a particular project. I don’t know if this can, would, or has happened. But five? I need more data and I imaging that some of the investors thinking open source may want to do some poking around in this subject area as well.
  2. Plone is more of a platform. The point that resonated with me was that Mr. Limi, if I heard correctly, suggested that CMS was not much of anything. Plone, because of its plumbing, framework, and architecture could be used to handle a number of content centric tasks. And, of course, Plone is free when products from commercial firms like Oracle and EMC are not. OpenText, which “owns” several content management systems may be gripping properties that could be marginalized like Plone or other open source CMS systems even if a handful of people maintain them.

I want to pay a bit more attention to these “items of information.” If these turn out to be accurate, I will definitely pay more attention to the Floss podcast. If these turn out to be off-center, I will go back to the audio books about ancient Rome.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2010



2 Responses to “Floss Plone Information”

  1. Randal L. Schwartz on October 4th, 2010 10:25 am

    First, thanks for listening to my show, and talking about it here.

    Second, it’s “Plone”, not “Plome”. 🙂

    But to your point about having a small number of people working on the core of a project, thus making a project vulnerable to a takeover or “hit by a bus” syndrome…

    The beauty of open source is that even though there is typically a small number of top-level committers serving the role that a Director would on a movie set, the work is being done in the open. Should the top-level committers be “bought up” by a corporate interest, or start consistently move in directions that a large faction of the community disagrees with, the open source project will “fork”, and a new set of top-level leaders will continue with a separate copy of the software, with some or all of the original community following to the new project. This is a regular event in the open source world. NetBSD forked as FreeBSD and OpenBSD. In a minor way, you could consider the dozens of Debian-based Linux distros as separate “forks”. Squeak forked as Pharo. More recently, MySQL forked as MariaDB, and OpenSolaris is forking as Illumos, and OpenOffice as LibreOffice. In the last few examples, it’s because Oracle snatched up Sun, and is slowly strangling the open source projects that made Sun famous. But thanks to the licenses, groups outside of Oracle are able to continue in a different direction without Oracle’s interference.

    So, while there may be only a few leaders, the very nature of open source prevents them from being dictatorial, because the project will just fork when that happens.

  2. Dylan Jay on October 12th, 2010 6:52 pm

    You are right about Plone as an enterprise framework. We’ve used it in big projects for forms processing and workflow systems which traditionally are not what you’d go to a CMS for.
    Web CMS’s by their nature have to visually flexibllity which many enterprise systems lack. So when you build into a Web CMS’s heart fine grained security, powerful workflow engine and an easy to easy content type framework as Plone does you get a crazy flexible system.

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