Why. Why! Why? Last rant about open/closed… for now…

In the last post, I mentioned that I’d seen the open/closed fight play out in gaming and enterprise software, with different results.

I’m all done with the gaming side for now, so back to the enterprise…

On the enterprise side of things, I’ve worked with CAD and document management systems.  In both, when I got started, incredibly closed proprietary systems were the norm.  In CAD, some companies made their own hardware to run their software and sold the whole thing in one expensive package.  In document management, the real money was in system integration which was deliberately kept hard so clients couldn’t do the work themselves.  But data exchange became increasingly important, plugin architectures got created and quite suddenly enterprise players found themselves stuck with openess.

Again, this wasn’t open source, but it was a new kind of openess that hadn’t existed before.  Eco-systems flourished, hundreds of developers sprang up for every platform, much money was made and customers gained all kinds of new abilities they’d never had before.

You could make a reasonable argument (especially if you weren’t as lazy as me and actually researched numbers that bear out this thesis) that the closed players mostly died out and the big successes were the platforms that became more open. i.e. the exact opposite of the games industry.

So the question that’s bugging me is this: why did closed work so well in games but open was the solution in enterprise?

My current thoughts:

  1. Enterprise software is more mature in its development than the games industry.  Perhaps every industry goes through a cycle of random noise/wild west craziness, evolution of successful closed systems, the eventual destruction of those systems and their replacement by more open systems.
  2. The nature of the usage of the technology dictates which will work.  Enterprise software was inevitably going to have to become broadly interoperative and collaborative in nature.  That forced openness.  Gaming (and perhaps mobile) can live with interoperability at its fringe and not at its core, allowing closed systems to continue to survive.
  3. It just is.  Sometimes you need one, other times you need the other.  Sadly, you’ll never know in advance which is right for any given industry, but hindsight will be 20/20.

All comments welcome!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, if that’s something you happen to celebrate.

1 comment for “Why. Why! Why? Last rant about open/closed… for now…

  1. December 1, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I think the Enterprise vs. Gaming examples you give actually show why one chose open and one chose closed. In the Enterprise, the information was the most valued commodity and the ecosystem was just a way to manipulate the information.

    In the Gaming example, the hardware (actually, the graphics) is the most valued commodity (you could argue that the games themselves are – but pretty graphics seem to me to sell games more often than the actual game). Only a few companies controlled the hardware, so it lead to a closed system. There is also the question of critical mass: as a consumer, if I by a console, I want to buy one that has lots of games for it. As a developer, I want to program for the console that has the most games, as more consumers are likely to have it, leading to a larger user base. This leads to a few leaders emerging, and around and around it goes.

    There is no such critical mass feedback loop going with the Enterprise example you gave (at least, it certainly isn’t near as strong), so openness is more likely to develop, b/c the inertia of accepting another system is lower.

    To bring it all together: a system may start out open when there are lots of players, but then become more closed when one or two players start developing critical mass, and then swing back towards open once the information advantages those players had becomes less of an issue and the inertia of changing becomes less.

    As a final example, think of computer operating systems. Initially, it was more open, then Microsoft became the standard closed system, and now it is swinging back to being more open with Apple coming on strong and Linux gaining.

Comments are closed.