I am a software engineer at Google on the Android project and the creator of the Java testing framework TestNG. When I'm not updating this weblog with various software-related posts or speaking at conferences, I am busy snowboarding, playing squash, tennis, golf or volleyball or scuba diving. Cedric is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 90 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Why I Think That IDEA Going Open Source is Not a Good Sign

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It looks like I shocked quite a few people with my recent prediction of doom for IDEA, so I thought I'd take some time to elaborate.Here is what I said:

cbeust: JetBrains deserves the utmost respect for what they have created and pioneered, but IDEA going opensource means that it will now slowly die
cbeust: About IDEA: commercial software that goes open source never ends well, even for products that don't suck
First of all, I'd like to make it crystal clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the guys at JetBrains, who possess three very rare qualities:
  • They are innovators. It's not exactly easy to come up with new ideas, whatever your field is, but these guys have come up with a lot of concepts that are now part of every developer's daily life.
  • They know how to write a great application. Who would have imagined that it would be possible to create not only such a snappy Swing application but also one that just seems to read your thoughts?
  • They managed to sell their product while competing against a free product that is of equally high quality (Eclipse) and funded by a very rich company (IBM).
About that last point: there is a saying that claims that if you are trying to sell software that competes against free products, you should change business. I don't buy that, and it's not just because I used to work for a company that was doing exactly that (BEA). A lot of companies are doing fine selling products that compete with free software, and they all have one thing in common: their product doesn't suck. JetBrains can certainly be counted as one of them.

Having said all this, I still see the move from commercial to open source as a sign that the business is struggling. A lot of companies have gone down that path in the past and all of them have tried to make it pass as a selfless action meant to help the community, but the truth is that they were just having a harder time selling their software, so making it open source is usually a last ditch effort to regain mindshare while trying to make money somewhere else.

I can't think of a single example where a struggling commercial software suddenly started regaining market share when they went open source. Can you?

I have no insight on how well JetBrains is doing, so it's quite possible that they are one of these rare exceptions. Maybe they were making tons of money with IDEA licenses and they really decided to suddenly give the product away out of kindness for the Java community. Even with these parameters, it still doesn't really sound like a good idea to me, but well.

Whatever side of the fence you stand on, one thing is clear about this move: it means less revenue for JetBrains for the foreseeable future. And what this means is that they will have less means to compete against Eclipse and less power to add features to either of the editions (the Community one or the Ultimate one).

And this is where a lot of companies make a fatal mistake: they think that making their software open source will automatically generate a ground swell of patches and additions from the community that will float them back to the top.

And in my experience, this never happens.

Oh patches will be sent and I'm sure a few isolated developers will come up with very cool additions to IDEA, but without a committee of JetBrains employees at the receiving end to sort through these patches and act as a strong steward ("reject this one", "accept this one as is", "accept this one but it needs more work", "accept this one but we need to integrate it with XXX", etc...), these patches will just start piling up and they won't be processed.

The challenge here is not just technical, it's about product management, and open source communities are just not good at that. Hackers scratch their itch and when they're done, they move on to the next itch with very little interest in how buggy their code is or how well it integrates with the rest of the platform. They leave that up to others.

So I'm pretty pessimistic about IDEA's future. I think the community edition will soon start stagnating and in one year, it will have made little progress. The Ultimate edition might fare well for a little while, as long as fans help support it by paying the $249, but I'm skeptical that this revenue will be enough to keep such an ambitious product alive.

And of course, Eclipse's apparently unstoppable momentum isn't helping. These guys just don't seem to rest and the amount of features and directions that they keep expanding on is just mindboggling.

I wish the best to IDEA. I really do. I think Eclipse wouldn't be nearly as good as it is right now if IDEA wasn't around and IDEA's disappearance from the landscape would mean that Eclipse risks stagnation as well. Competition is good for users. I really hope that I'm wrong with my predictions.

Let's meet again here in one year.

From http://beust.com/weblog

Published at DZone with permission of Cedric Beust, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Toni Epple replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 3:10am

Interesting thoughts, but there is one interesting aspect you may have missed in your analysis. JetBrains has started to market IntelliJ as a platform for creating your own IDE on top of the IDEA core (http://www.jetbrains.org/display/IJOS/FAQ). This works best with an Open Source project. And they can sell support and training for this. So besides reaching more developers, which I think they will, they're adressing a new market. 

I also don't have insights how well JetBrains is doing, but they are currently looking for new developers (http://www.jetbrains.com/company/jobs/index.html). When such a small company is hiring 6 people it's an indication that they are doing rather well.

And for the people who bought licenses in the past they've still got the Ultimate edition with all the interesting parts for Web Development who probably won't go away. 

So in summary I don't think that IDEA is going away in the near future.



Olivier GERARDIN replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 5:42am in response to: Toni Epple

(edit: this is a reply to the original post, not eppelton's comment)

Interesting indeed, but your post makes a lot of questionable, if not wrong, assumptions:

You talk about "the move from commercial to open source": it's not a move, there will still be a commercial IntelliJ. And open source doesn't mean not commercial.

You talk about "struggling commercial software" when you have admitted yourself that you have no insight on how well jetbrains is doing.

You say "one thing is clear about this move: it means less revenue for JetBrains for the foreseeable future."; I don't see how this is clear. It certainly means more users, that's the only thing that is clear to me. But I don't believe these new users will steal revenue from paying customers; on the contrary, I believe that this augmented user base will help establish the product in the long term. Not necessarily by writing patches or plugins, but simply by improving the product reputation and recognition. 

I think this type of licensing is what we are going to see more and more in the future. An increasing part of revenue for software companies will come not from selling the right to use the software, but from selling support, add-ons, consulting, specialized extensions, etc. A lot of companies already adopted this kind of economic model.

So I believe this is a smart move from JetBrains. Let's meet again here in one year :)

Ovidiu Guse replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 7:20am

The features comparison table between the Community and Ultimate editions does not look so alarming: IntelliJ IDEA Editions Comparison.

Tony Siciliani replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 8:45am

AFAIK, IntelliJ is not going open-source. Not exactly. There are actually 5 different types of licenses. Two of them are free (OS and Classroom) but require approval.

The  free community edition is a subset of the commercial "ultimate" version. Having both a free subset and a full commercial version is a pretty common pattern in software companies, and not a sign of pending doom, IMO.

JeffS replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 11:07am

Look no further than MyEclipse and Trolltech (Qt, who have since been acquired by Nokia) for examples of success this type of buisness model.

 MyEclipse seems to be doing rather well, thank you very much, having a product based on a completely free IDE/platform, but with great commercial grade, high quality, closed sourced, licensed plugins.

 Also, Trolltech, which always dual licensed Qt as commercial, for pay, and free/open source, always made a profit in every year of it's existence, and actualy grew revenue and profit every year of it's existence.  Now it's been acquired by Nokia, who are making it a major part of it's overall market strategy.

So, it seems the marketplace has already proven this latest Intellij strategy as a very viable move.

And as eppleton already mentioned, the free community edition will be marketed as a platform upon which others can base their own products, and Intellij can offer support and services (already a proven business model), expanding their own market opportunities.  And at the same time, they still sell the ultimate edition, which really contains the features that most Java devs need.  

 So, don't worry, be happy!

Jordan Zimmerman replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 11:54am

I hope that Jetbrains succeeds. Losing IDEA, for me, would be like a carpenter losing his hammer. I can't stand Eclipse.

David Gilbert replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 1:15pm

Interesting...6 responses so far, 5 in disagreement and one neutral (more or less).  As someone who doesn't believe in magic open source pixies, I'm going to go against the crowd and say I agree with Cedric - this is (sadly) a bad sign for IntelliJ.  I hope it isn't so, but I'll see you here in one year also.

Rick Ross replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 2:36pm

Generally speaking, I tend to agree with Cedric that this step is not a sign that sales have been going fabulously for IDEA. JetBrains may have a plan, however, so I wouldn't go so far as to say the IDE will stagnate or die. The JetBrains team is consistently deliberate, so this has to have been a purposeful step.

There's a key difference between IBM and JetBrains. IBM can provide numerous full-time staffers to Eclipse projects, earning kudos for its valuable support of FOSS, and then they recoup their investment several times over selling Rational tools to Big Enterprise customers.

Afaik, JetBrains doesn't yet have a channel to sell IDEA under a different brand like this. Few companies besides IBM really could. It's almost like a Seinfeld "double-dip" for IBM, they get goodwill as a reward for supporting FOSS, then make money hand-over-fist selling basically the same stuff.

Rich Unger replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 3:41pm

Examples of commercial software that made gains in market share after going open source: Mozilla, Solaris, StarOffice (i.e. OpenOffice.org), and NetBeans (went open source around 2001 I believe, but was a commercial app before that, with much less presence than they have now).

From their interview on JavaPosse, it's clear they're not counting on community contributions to boost their productivity. Their OSS move has two goals: grow the user market share, and make it easier for 3rd party integrators (like yourself, and David Gilbert for that matter) to write plugins by giving you access to the source. They clearly still expect to do all the coding of IDEA themselves.

I'm optimistic on their behalf, even if it does muddy the water a bit for my IDE of choice (NB).

Christian Maslen replied on Mon, 2009/10/19 - 5:53pm

I think giving away a scaled down version of a good product is not bad sign (giving away the whole product would be - just look at Ingres). Visual Studio have been doing this for years and MS don't have a hard time turning a profit in their tools division.

One positive slant on this approach (as I see it from personal experience) is that it allows students to get a look and perhaps get addicted to the product, so that when they get a job they purchase or ask their employer to purchase the full product.

JetBrains' future will be determined by how well they continue to innovate and how current they keep their plugins with the various frameworks in the Java community. I would say they're doing pretty well with ReSharper - a product considered indispensable by many .Net developers

My personal opinion on a current gap in the market is first class IDE support for the various JVM languages that have gained popularity recently. Eg the Scala plugin is OK and is certainly better than the Eclipse equivalent but it's nowhere near as good as developing Java on IDEA - despite Scala being a better language.


Bintou Mady Kaba replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 12:36am

i have been using IDEA from Day one! I am one of the customer, that IntelliJ will be regaining wirh this move!! I am confident, that this is the best move from IntelliJ and the best chrismas gift for the develpper comminuty since open sourcing java by sun

Alex Roytman replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 1:07am

I tend to agree with Cedric,

Look at the JetBrain newsgroups  - they are 1/10 of what they used to be. JetBrain rarely bother to answer these days and thus people do not bother to participate. Gone are the days of comunity enthusiasm, suggestions , excitement .... Maybe these are the signs of mature product?

Do you think open source will revive it?

About living off support and consulting. What kind of IDE it is if it needs support and consultants from vendors? How many of us guys need any support for IDEA beyound bug fixes?


Tobias Frech replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 4:50am

What about Glassfish for example? Wasn't that code base closed source before as well? If so I think Glassfish would not exist any more if it had stayed closed source.

Tobias Frech replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 4:52am

By the way, there is an interview on JavaPosse about this.

Jose Maria Arranz replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 11:56am

@Rich Unger: Examples of commercial software that made gains in market share after going open source: Mozilla, Solaris, StarOffice (i.e. OpenOffice.org), and NetBeans (went open source around 2001 I believe, but was a commercial app before that, with much less presence than they have now).

Gain in market share means gain in revenue?  I don't see the correlation, mass adoption doesn't mean mass revenue.

Your examples are really *bad* examples:

- Mozilla is a non-profit foundation with big money from Google, it doesn't make a penny.

- OpenSolaris is no longer a revenue source, is a key technology to sell Sun's hardware

- OpenOffice is an endless money hole with almost the only one objective of cutting revenue to Microsoft giving an alternative office for free.

- NetBeans, itself, doesn't make a penny, is a key technology of Sun for consulting, providing an independent end-to-end stack of hardware and software.


Slava Imeshev replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 1:20pm


I completely agree with what your are saying. You've read my mind to the last byte. Opensourcing IDEA is a very bad sign.



Slava Imeshev

Dmitry Shultz replied on Tue, 2009/10/20 - 11:51pm

Why reinvent the wheel and implement JavaFX plugin from scratch and not to use what is already done?
IDEA is going to benefit from Open Source because it will be able to integrate some other open source code it will followed by even bigger adoption from the developers.

Very wise decision IMHO.

Mike P(Okidoky) replied on Wed, 2009/10/21 - 11:39am

What if Google bought Idea, open sourced it, and re-invigorated its momentum?

Also, Scala needs to become a first class citizen like pronto. It's better than Java, and way better than alternatives like Groovy and JRuby.

These are all opportunities ready for Google to jump on....

Roman Strobl replied on Thu, 2009/10/22 - 10:57am

Thanks for your valuable opinion, Cedric, and your kind words about our
track record. Indeed, innovation is a fundamental value of ours and the main
reason we're in this business. We believe it will help us continue to
thrive. And here's how open-sourcing IntelliJ IDEA fits into that vision.

JetBrains is enjoying a healthy revenue stream and, to our great pleasure,
IntelliJ IDEA has been growing steadily since day one. We are growing as a
company as well (shameless plug - we're hiring!).

Talking about growing, open-sourcing IntelliJ IDEA is a growth strategy, not
an exit strategy for us. IntelliJ IDEA is known for its passionate end-user
community, which we don't think is going to change anytime soon. On the
contrary, open-sourcing is just the right move to bring many new members to
our community. As the community expands, this will drive further sales of
the Ultimate Edition and other JetBrains products.

IntelliJ IDEA is used in many Top 100 and 500 companies, banks and other
businesses (http://www.jetbrains.com/company/customers/customer_list.html).
With a strong customer base like that, we don't expect the marketshare of
IntelliJ IDEA to shrink any time soon.

From the get-go, we never expected that releasing IntelliJ IDEA Community
Edition would automatically generate a ground swell of patches and additions
from the community. Although we welcome community participation and think it
will steadily increase, we do not plan to rely heavily on external
contributions to drive our products further. As such, there is no reason for
the quality of our software to decline or stagnate.

As we all know, actions speak louder than words. Let's look back on this a
year from now and draw our conclusions then.

Again, thank you for your comments and an interesting discussion!

Gregory Pierce replied on Tue, 2009/11/03 - 11:43am

This is no different than many other freemium models currently in the marketplace today. THe only difference is that now Jetbrains has one where they didn't before. This is getting quite common across the board. Another impressive technology company (unity3d.com) recently started giving away an entry level version of their product as well. In general, the people that would benefit from the cheap/free/community version are not people who pay money to use the product and would instead have been using Eclipse or Netbeans. In doing so Jetbrains would never be able to foster a strong community/network nor would they have been able to take advantage of the halo effect of their other products. The one thing that is entirely missed (and I'm surprised someone from Google missed it) is that by giving away IntelliJ, Jetbrains is pushing to increase the audience of the wealth of other products and services that it offers. Someone using IntelliJ (for free) is now much more likely to notice, recommend or potentially purchase their YouTrack system, TeamCity, etc. The people who are enterprise and make up the bulk of the profits will still continue to pay Jetbrains. What they've done is open up opportunities at the bottom of their market - no different than how embedding Google technology from the web to the phone opens the market for selling other services to those consumers.

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