Note: I'll start this blog post off with an acknowledgment to those who have posted comments on my main blog site (http://alexfletcher.typepad.com) for the past two-and-a-half months. I have been unable to view newly posted comments through my TypePad administration console since earlier this year. I was unaware of the fact until after a recent maintenance outage for TypePad I was able to see the deluge of comments that have been posted. I have yet to determine exactly why this was the case, but am looking into it.
"What would you add - if anything - about using organizations like the Eclipse Foundation, the ASF, or other standards/code bodies to have a sort of neutral-ground and/or organization "middleware" for all this?"
While the concept of middleware that sits between an increasing array of quality software, produced as output of the open source development model, sounds abstract the growth in demand for open source has created a void for just that. This middle ground is essentially a nether region between software vendors/system integrators and the businesses looking for last mile solutions. Typically, for the larger companies and organizations it's players like IBM GBS and Accenture Global Services that go that last mile to deliver the notion of an integrated solution (excuse my marketing-speak). However, this is done taking a proprietary approach (products, tools and processes). Which proves wildly profitable for both of the aforementioned companies, still what has yet to be seen is who will play the role of coagulating some of the disparate sources of open source, refining it and delivering as consumable pieces that meet a specific business need.
I'm a big proponent that software is bought for what it does instead of what it is. High-end ERP implementations don't ring up 7-8 figures on account of simply being an ERP rollout, rather it's the fact that these systems are often the lifeblood of modern business operations. And there's a growing role for open source within the context of ever narrowing market segments. The Eclipse Foundation has caught wind of this reality and begun to branch out in the direction of specialization. And they're not alone, the OSA has made headway towards giving life to the open solution. These efforts will be instrumental in making open source feasible for segments such as the SMBs, microverticals, service industry verticals and emerging economies.
This is precisely where the middleware analogy is applicable. In the case of organizations like Eclipse and the Apache Software Foundation they are the glue/packaging that enable that sits between the raw productive power of the open source software model and the industry-specific needs of its consumers. Strangely enough, the need for a middle ground goes almost entirely unmentioned. Yet in the absence of an established group of open source behemoths that influence macro-level trends increased prevalence of organizations that serve as a neutral buffer is a positive. Realistically, these organizations don't even have to resemble Eclipse or Apache. And I fully expect that more OSA-style groups will sprout, as profit-turning entities like SIs or vendors begin to realize that it works to their benefit to cooperate towards delivering a collectively neutral approach to "solutioning."
Whether this middleware is spurred by marketplace demand or the proactive foresight of players in industry has yet to be seen. Additionally, increased consolidation amongst open source participants might bring about de-facto platforms fit with ready-made ecosystems that can standalone from one given end to another. However, to wait for impending consolidation is reactionary and strategically sloppy, at best. Especially since in the light of every acquisition (large and small) there is considerable room to pursue the middle ground.