James Dixon’s Blog

James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

No open source decision needed for Pentaho

with 9 comments

Seth Grimes at Intelligent Enterprise posted an article today – Open Source Decision Time for Pentaho BI. He raises some interesting points, although the article is a couple of years too late. Grimes seems to think that the addition of Lucidera’s ClearView into the Pentaho Enterprise Edition is, or indicates, a change in direction for Pentaho. This is not the case. Pentaho has had enterprise features for several years.

In the article, prompted by Pentaho’s recent acquisition of some of Lucidera’s IP, he writes:

That this centerpiece Enterprise Edition component was not and is not open source invites a question. Is Pentaho, founded as a “commercial open source” BI vendor, still an open-source company? Pentaho itself seems unsure.

It is good to question the actions of any vendor, open source or not, but this question makes no sense to me. If Pentaho was an “open source” BI vendor before this acquisition, and since all the open source software is still available, how can its status have changed?

Grimes also states that:

Analyst Merv Adrian characterizes Pentaho as “open core,” which seems like a very apt description. The Pentaho BI Suite’s basic components are open source, and non-open source elements are based on open standards. Neither reliance on an open core nor past exclusive use of open source components, however, is not sufficient for Pentaho to continue to call itself, at this juncture, a “commercial open source” company.

Pentaho, the company, seems itself of two minds about its status.

Personally I don’t like the term ‘open core’, but of all of the currently used terms, it is the closest to Pentaho’s business model. My objection to it, in Pentaho’s case, is that we offer much more than a ‘core’ in open source.

Grimes also seems, through the use of double or triple negatives, to imply that maybe Pentaho cannot call itself a “commercial open source” company any more, or is getting close to some boundary. The problem here is that there is no formal definition of the term “commercial open source”, and Grimes does not provide his definition. Some people have an inclusive definition, some people (ironically often the ‘free software’ advocates) have a very narrow and exclusive definition.

Since he raises the issue, we are not in two minds at all. Pentaho and it communities provides, in open source:

  • An OLAP engine (Mondrian) with web-based slice-dice (JPivot)
  • An ETL engine (Kettle)
  • A report engine (formerly JFreeReport) with web-based ad-hoc reporting
  • A BI platform with out-of-the-box web server and web-app deployments
  • A Dashboard framework – CDF
  • A metadata layer

This is more open source functionality than any other commercial open source BI vendor provides, and more than any open source community has managed to create. There are many thousands of implementations of these open source packages running around the world.

Pentaho Corporation provides to its customers:

  • Additional features, functionality, and services that mainly provide a lower cost-of-ownership and faster development cycles.

For many open source vendors messaging in press releases and on websites is in continual evolution. The business models themselves are being refined – Alfresco over the past few years has switched from an open-core model to a services-only model, and then back to open-core again.

Still, I suppose those people who desire absolute messaging clarity from their software vendors, rather than good software with an exceptional value proposition, have every right to object.


Written by James

October 13, 2009 at 1:13 am

9 Responses

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  1. […] No open source decision needed for Pentaho « James Dixon’s Blog a few seconds ago from seesmic […]

  2. James,

    I agree with most of the points that you made in response to Seth’s article. It is very clear to me with my inside view of Pentaho that the company remains committed to the open source strategy and the community it has gathered.

    It does feel like you skimmed a bit over what I felt was an important part of his post, the confusion in the press release.

    If even the enterprise customers that are allowed to use the tool cannot see the source code for the ClearView component, then it isn’t open source, and I do feel that point could have been made clearer in the press release. That said, the people who picked up the release and wrote about it probably still wouldn’t have understood the distinction which means you just saved them extra headache and potentially bad press for yourself if they got it wrong.. So I guess maybe you do know what you are doing. 🙂

    Daniel Einspanjer

    October 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the comments. I did concede that the positioning isn’t as clear as it could be. But I didn’t want to comment on word counts, that seemed a bit silly to me.



      October 13, 2009 at 9:29 pm

  3. […] This post was Twitted by osbi_fr […]

    Twitted by osbi_fr

    October 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  4. Thanks for tackling this issue further. I liked Julian Hyde’s discussion on his blog (linked to it in my post referenced above.) There is more than licensing in play here – good citizenship is also about contributions back to the community and Pentaho’s bona fides remain strong as far as I can see so far.

    Merv Adrian

    October 13, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  5. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?


    October 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

  6. The fundamental mismatch is mostly around branding and culture. Pentaho calls itself “opensource” yet when one visits http://www.pentaho.com/download/ to download the software, the only options available are those flagged as ’30 day free trials’. While I’m sure if I dig around and search I can probably find the opensource files, the design of the downloads page makes it very clear that easy unmediated access to the raw source code is something that the company lacks enthusiasm for. Which in turn gives rise to an expectation that the opensource aspect is shrinking and endangered, and that the word is used more in a marketing sense.

    Exactly the same codebase and license choices, presented differently, could give a very different ‘feel’ and raise different expectations about likely future behaviour.

    Dan Brickley

    December 21, 2010 at 8:25 am

    • You can get to the community site very easily from the home page. Try starting there.


      January 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm

  7. Yes, they’re both about push, and data syndication. To a first approximation, the web (and social media) run on semi-structured data (XML, RSS, Atom) and business runs on structured data (SQL). So, we are seeing movements to make both forms of data flow efficiently in real time.

    Lazer Epilasyon Adana

    February 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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