Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How to create Smallworld Competitors

I think I might hammer the open source / public license idea a bit more. Hopefully the more we do this the more likely that we might actually get a response from GE. I have tried to get some responses from GE about their official view of open source or public license as it pertains to Smallworld but my requests have vanished into the e-mail ether.

Here are some ideas that I would like to see GE address:

  • open source any modules that will provide easier access for external systems to query/manipulate data in the VMDS database.

    A recent comment to one of my articles suggested doing this for Smallworld's SQL Server product. This is a tool that allows Windows applications to see Smallworld VMDS data as ODBC data sources. I think this functionality would be a great candidate for open source by GE. I think taking that action could reenergize the Smallworld user base and show real commitment by GE to address customer concerns about lack of access to VMDS data.

    The pertinent questions I think are: what would it hurt GE to open source SQL Server? What would it benefit GE to open source SQL Server? I cannot think of any real negative impacts to these actions. As the Anonymous commenter suggested, not many customers use the Smallworld SQL Server product anyways.

    Opening/Freeing that product could spur innovation in open access to VMDS and may actually provide a positive benefit to customers in a short time frame.
  • There is a great article at Ask The Wizard called Creating Competitors. "Ask the Wizard" is a blog run by FeedBurner CEO Dick Costolo.

    GE's CEO Jeff Immelt stresses learning as a key to success in today's dynamic world. I would recommend the Creating Competitors article to the Smallworld managers as an article that at least gives them some ideas about how someone has built a successful software organization in today's dynamic world.

    Here are some key points from that article:
    • Provide an open API
      • even if you control your core code, providing an open API into your system will spur innovation.
        • I think that Smallworld is already doing this with products such as Smallworld Automation and the new Service Oriented Architecture and Internet Application Server. But it would not hurt to review whether these are the types of APIs that will allow others to build on your product and not on your competitors product. I would also not hurt to make these open API mechanisms more widely known to current and potential Smallworld customers.
    • Provide a free version of your software
      • people will always want a free version of something. If you don't have one, they will get it from your competitor. Who do you think they will look to when they are ready for an upgrade?
        • I do not know of a free version for Smallworld, but it might be worth pursuing something like that. I seem to remember a few years ago GE handed out demo CD's of Smallworld that actually installed Smallworld on your computer with an easy install wizard interface and then let you work on the Cambridge demo database.
        • Maybe once GE officially moves to Oracle/Java architecture, they could make the VMDS/Magik architecture the free version. VMDS is very portable and could be easily licensed for free use. Compare this to trying to license Oracle for free use.
These are my thoughts. I acknowledge that I do not have the responsibility nor knowledge to run a large organization such as GE Energy's Smallworld group. I am sure that the people that do that are making the best decisions they can in each situation. What I am trying to initiate with this article is a public discussion about how to continue to make Smallworld thrive in a changing market place. Until GE enters this public discussion, I am afraid these posts may sound more like monologues than the multilateral conversations that I hope for.

As always I would love to hear reader comments to anything I post.

1 comment:

Paul Ramsey said...

Unfortunately, I know nothing about Smallworld. Perhaps the GE folks could learn some things at foss4g2007.org?

Is there really much room for growth for GE Smallworld, or have they captured most all of the market? In that case, they want to keep releasing just enough features to keep their installed base from growing restive, and reap maintenance revenue for as long as possible.

And opening the architecture would give people a change to incremental escape GE's warm embrace. Better to keep things monolithic and closed so that the cost to switch is as high and painful as possible.