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Building a better business model with Digital Creations founder Paul Everitt
Tuesday April 03, 04:34 AM EST   
- By Julie Bresnick -
Open Source people -

Paul Everitt, co-founder of Digital Creations, is not a big man (his weight classes for high school wrestling was 102 and 109 pounds) but his years in the U.S. Navy show in his gait. He walks with the stature of a man with big muscles or wearing a recent victory; his shoulders back his spine straight. He walks with the gait of a leader. He mans the helm of a company attempting to "cross the chasm" between the innovator market, which is already sold on the idea of Open Source, and the mainstream. It is a term he adopted from a sales and marketing book Crossing the Chasm that he just finished reading. At the time of our conversation, he's about to reference the book in his talk at the Linux Conference in Denver, Colo. It is a leap that poses the biggest challenge for Open Source today. With Digital Creations he plans to transport Zope, the Web application server that the company Open-Sourced in the fall of 1998, to the mainstream.

He has been on the road for 19 of the last 33 days preaching about not just the benefits of Open Source but how to incorporate it into a business model that works, how to take it beyond the realm of religion and into a better way to do business and build wealth.

Everitt is thoughtful after mentioning his wife and 2-year-old daughter -- "the whole family thing does bring up an interesting point" -- but can't resist transitioning into the business implications. "Regarding the whole question about whether companies should be allowed to have intellectual property, many kind of loud people in the Open Source community, not the thoughtful people, just seem to be against any concept of ownership and what that winds up eventually meaning is that programmers aren't allowed to participate in wealth creation. And that makes it pretty hard to have a family."

But there are plenty of programmers out there making a lot of money.

"They're making money, but there is a difference between money and wealth. Having an ownership position, through employee stock options, of a long term viable company with real tangible assets is wealth. Getting paid a good yearly salary is just money. It's not that it can't be done, my beef is that many times the community just doesn't care, it's 'just give it to us for free and then it's your problem to figure out how to make it profitable.'"

There's no doubt that Everitt cares, and not just about wealth creation. Having succumbed to programming fever at the keyboard of his own ATARI 400 in eighth grade, he jokes today that if all else fails he can probably fund his family's future with the price fetched by the sale of his prized T-shirt from the first ever Python conference. Python is a program dear to him both personally and professionally. In the fall of 2000 Python author Guido van Rossum moved himself and his team into a Digital Creations office in Northern Virginia. Python is the language used to develop Zope and now that PythonLabs is part of Digital Creations, the team's days are dedicated to developing the Python core and infrastructure improvements that also benefit Zope.

Though working with the folk at PythonLabs is one of the most fulfilling aspects of his job and though he thinks it's important that Zope is developed openly, Everitt is constantly reassessing Open Source's appropriate role in the business arena.

"I've already seen Open Source go from our leading kind of brand tag to being a secondary one for us. Open Source for us really is a means to an end and not the end itself. It could happen that for the mainstream market Open Source recedes even further and just becomes an operations issue -- what's the best way to organize a development force and a community."

If he's willing to downgrade the role of Open Source then why is it so important in the first place?

"There are a number of benefits [to Open Source] that I don't think are being portrayed well enough to the mainstream. One of the biggest ones is for businesses, for customers to have control over what happens to them. The entire model of the technology adoption lifestyle has been to establish a proprietary lock in, through pretty well specified techniques, get the mainstream market to use your stuff and then to make sure that they don't have any option but to use your stuff.

Great from the vendor's perspective," he laughs, "but not that great from the customer's perspective. And we're not doing a good enough job educating the market on why they should care about that and how Open Source is different. It's done in a kind of tangential way of bashing mainstream vendors rather than promoting a valid agenda."

The end to which Open Source could be a primary means is "a successful global way for information technology to operate. A better buying proposition for customers, a better selling proposition for vendors and an acceleration in innovation."

Sounds great, so how does he plan on making that happen?

"To me, about the biggest thing that is a bridge to the mainstream is what IBM is doing, a very visible ad campaign and staking a lot on Linux. In particular, trying to build out what is called the whole project, beyond the software, the services, and the field sales force and all that stuff."

It is hard to divert him from the business side of things. Not because he is not forthcoming, but because that's where his mind is these days and it's working overtime. Besides the sacred Saturday mornings that he goes swimming with his daughter, he'd like to have a free moment to mow the lawn but every time he does mow the grass, he finds himself thinking about Mozilla. He has no idea why and his speaking schedule doesn't afford him enough time on the grass to find out.

He says that despite the internships spent working on databases and the computer jobs that complemented his college years, he never thought programming would be his career. He says he's actually not much of a programmer, but he thinks like one and when I watch him give a presentation to a group gathered by the LAX LUG, there's no doubt he can communicate effectively with a room full of career geeks.

But unlike the traditional geek MO, "I really love getting up in front of audiences and trying to provoke some of their thinking about business models and about where we are really trying to go, and so the evangelism is very fun and rewarding and all part of really trying to make a difference."

His focus is not as finite as that of the great programmers, rather it is broader in scale, grandiose. He doesn't want to be brilliant, he says, he wants to be effective. But considering that his motivation is to change the world, by "coming up with something that is unique and meaningful and strikes a chord in a large group of people," I think what he really means to say is that he wants to be brilliantly effective.

About Paul Everitt

Born: Panama City, Fla.

University: University of Florida.

Favorite book: Anything on Theodore Roosevelt.

Shining moment: "I started www.navy.mil way back in '93 or '92. It was the first publicly available Web server in the Department of Defense. Trying to get that done inside the military was an interesting exercise."

Favorite high-tech toy: "I hate all of them. I hate everything that has to do with computers. It's a love/hate relationship. I break everything I touch. If you want to total your computer so you can get a new one just loan it to me for an hour. It's astonishing."