SAP: temporary loss of touch with reality?

| 2 min read

At this year’s Sapphire in Boston, Shai Agassi came out with some astounding and questionable views on free and open source software: “Open-source technologies such as Python and PHP, to name just two, are of great interest to college students and younger people with a passion.

He goes on to point out the distance between that, and what I presume he thinks of as “grown up” ERP software.

How do we interpret what he said? Was it a temporary slip? Or did he really mean it? Either way, it’s worrying. Perhaps it’s the Java lobby and their puzzling stance on (not) making Java open source – is he trying to protect SAP’s investment in the new COBOL?

Perhaps it’s a momentary loss of touch with reality; to bring yourself back, Shai, ask yourself this (especially bearing in mind SAP’s attempt to move closer to open standards and “Web Services”) – what do you think 90% of the world’s largest scale web services are written in, and run on? Yes – open source and free software!

SAP’s dominance of the business software market combined with the sheer size and momentum of the company and its developers sometimes make it hard for those inside to see the reality outside. So I can understand why statements like those of Agassi and Kagermann are made.

Nevertheless, it makes me sad to think that they’re perhaps forgetting the enormous cooking pot, the catalyst, that is the ABAP language and the business applications that have been delivered, in an open source fashion (the source is available to see and modify), to customers for the past decade or so. Both SAP developers and SAP customers have benefitted from this cooking pot; the former due to Linus’s law (“given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”), and the latter due to the fact that customers can learn from, build upon, and fix code delivered from SAP.

Anyway, let’s see where this debate leads. SAP’s stance on open source is one thing; the stance on IP and software patents in Europe (read to the end of the article to find out what I’m referring to) is something else entirely more worrying. Come on chaps, do we really want a patent system that’s as ridiculously messed up as the one in the U.S.?

Update:Frank K looks at the quote differently, and also mentions SAP’s involvement with Zend. Of course, this is one of many initiatives (MaxDB and contributions by SAP’s LinuxLab to the GNU/Linux kernel to name a couple of others) that SAP are undertaking. Don’t get me wrong – the reason why I was so shocked is that it was such a left-of-centre stance all of a sudden. I’ve defended SAP’s open source initiatives in the past, and I’ll do it again.

In all, I’m still quite confounded by the implication that open source is for students and not for ‘serious’ software. In our SAP landscape, we have major SAP-powered applications that are written in Perl (with Apache, running on Linux). Perhaps it’s me. I dunno. Time for a beer. Cheers!