Cisco's move to open-source its Telepresence is genius

Sure, Cisco had to give up ownership of the TIP, but no one ever said they had to open-source it. Here's why it makes so much sense.

Though Cisco was simply fulfilling a legal requirement when it announced this week it would release the code behind its Telepresence Interoperability Protocol as open source, it surely struck some as baffling. And struck others as good business sense.

The TIP is what allows third parties to create add-ons for Cisco's Telepresence products, to allow them to connect with other companies' videoconference programs.

As part of its acquisition of Tandberg this week, Cisco had to get rid of the TIP, "divest its ownership" of it. But that didn't mean, necessarily, that it had to make it open source. This move (it's registered on SourceForge already) means that no one else can "own" it, either. I would argue that by giving away the code, they're actually keeping control of it.

Though the specific license isn't clear yet, it would seem it would have to be rather open, as Cisco can't own it. So let's assume it's a completely open license, giving anyone the right to snag the code and fiddle with it as they desire. Cisco's making sure that no one else can have control over something so important to their product.

It's a genius move, actually. The license is being transferred to the International Multimedia Teleconferencing Consortium (IMTC) (or, Cisco said, "another independent industry body"). But by giving the code over to the open source community, the future of the TIP is in everyone's hands and so, therefore, no one's.

Sure, this means that in some cases, some will choose another videoconferencing vendor over Cisco because they won't have to worry about interoperability. But it also means that some will choose Cisco over another vendor because now they don't have to worry about having to spend extra money to ensure it plays well with other systems.

Maybe a company is expanding and has decided Cisco fulfils more of its needs than another vendor. But it started out with 3Com. Well, now it doesn't have to worry about spending money on another license to make sure the two systems work together, so maybe they'd just go for the Cisco this time. (Of course, that could work the other way around.)

Good timing, too, as Cisco announced demand for video conferencing has spiked since the Icelandic volcano eruption grounded so much air traffic. That's more than just hype, as evidenced by a Columbia University law professor who's been using Skype with video to teach his classes despite being stranded in Europe.

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