Closed Open Source PLM?

Closed Open Source PLM?

Unless you’ve been living under the rock for the last decade, you’ve heard about open source software, hardware or anything else. As such, you might be exposed to discussions about open source PLM. The debates around open source PLM went down for the last several years. I think Aras was the main contributor to open source PLM marketing in the past. Not anymore. Aras is an open community (based on the last interview with Peter Schroer and Rob McAveny)

A few weeks ago, my attention was caught by the article – Why a “closed” open source project may be just what a community needs. The article speaks about some trends in open source development. More specifically about Go language development.

Nobody who wants the level of influence afforded a core member can get it. The result is that, while the decisions may be good, it isn’t a community resource. It’s the Go core team’s, at the most charitable. Google’s, at the least. But with no mechanisms for allowing others to participate, the[y] close off equality of opportunity.

It’s great that the language itself is open source – the community could always fork if their leadership turns yucky. But that’s precisely the point – all the power in the brand, in Google, is totally inaccessible to the community at large. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does mean that the Go core team is an unjust body – those with power will keep it. Those without it will receive their largesse. Nobody who wants to work within that institution will get the chance, without that Google badge.

Moving forward, don’t get confused between open source concepts and democracy.

But whether that core team is sponsored by a company or is comprised of people from a variety of companies, open source is never a free-wheeling democracy. As Simon MacDonald has written, “Preventing scope creep in any open source project is a key to its success.” This is more easily managed by a small team, in part because they know what’s at stake if they are too promiscuous in what they accept, according to Paul Ramsey: “Core teams are not taking new features willy-nilly, precisely because they know they’ll be stuck maintaining them for ever after.”

This article made my brain think again about Open Source PLM projects. For a very long time, Aras Corp was a flagship project claiming “open source PLM status”. Actually, Aras is far aware from being an open source. Aras is actually even not a community project. In my recent article Open Source in PLM and Manufacturing, I shared some of my thoughts about the possible trajectory of open source in PLM.

The foundation of manufacturing companies is a huge conglomerate of legacy technologies. At the same time, manufacturing companies are looking how to modernize their IT landscape. These two factors together can create a good opportunity to introduce manufacturing companies to some sort of open source (or community-based) technologies. The importance is to have these technologies available for manufacturing companies to run free and improve. To have a cross-company community can be a good element of making this software successful.

What software can pretend to play the role of PLM “open source” community package? Aras is certainly a good candidate to make it happen. However, Aras code is not available for forking (correct me if I’m wrong). Aras is also not looking at how to make their core available as an open source (even without contribution). Aras is a pure Microsoft code base, which makes it limited to be expanded in non-Microsoft communities.

What is my conclusion? I think the industry is still looking for PLM software code to play a role of “Linux for PLM”. Last decade demonstrated a few interesting initiatives on how to make PLM easy and more affordable. Open source is certainly one of the options to develop a better PLM platform. A combination of closed core and different hosting options is another way to provide a scalable and affordable PLM option. A combination of open source code running on top of cloud-based infrastructure is an interesting model. I never heard about closed PLM core used for cloud hosting and combined with open source community development. With a growing interest in cloud IT, it can be an interesting option too. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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