Users versus Vendors, or is it Users and Vendors

One thing I’ve been noticing lately on the CDT project that’s probably happening with other projects at Eclipse is that more and more contributions, contributors, and even committers are coming from companies that are users of Eclipse technology. When we started the CDT and for many years we were driven almost exclusively by vendors that had commercial products that used the CDT. But now we have this very interesting mix and that is really changing the dynamics of how we work.

But you could see it coming and Eclipse is setup up to promote such growth. It started as bug reports, then slowly patches started getting attached to those bug reports, then those guys writing patches started contributing more patches and participated in the mailing lists until we finally voted them in as committers so they could apply their own patches. And that’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s how you grow your community. And that’s how we’ve reached the rich diversity enjoyed by the CDT project.

But as I mention, there’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening. The vendors are still trying to make money selling CDT-based products. Those users used to be potential customers of those products. However the economics of open source makes it actually cheaper and gives them more control if they get their tools and platforms from open source and staff a few developers to maintain and grow that software. When you have a user base that numbers in the thousands, I can see it. And there are quite a few of those companies, especially in the embedded space.

So what used to seen as differentiating features for vendors is still functionality that is desired by these user contributors. And of course, they would rather see that functionality implemented in the open where they can share it amongst themselves and anyone else who could potentially contribute. So as they organize, the tools vendors are looking on with dread. We have always fought to stay above the open source line with our value add, but it’s becoming more and more difficult. And that line is growing exponentially. It’s certainly a wake up call for us who get paid out of product revenue.

Has the industry changed making us dinosaurs or is there still value that we can provide that users will pay for. I think we still can make money, but we definitely have to change they way we think. It’s no longer about who has the best features. It’s what it should have always been about, who makes their customers the most successful. Our user contributors know that as that’s exactly what they are paid to do. We vendors need to find our place there too.