First, a company releases a product so popular that it changes the industry (like the iPhone). Then, there's a backlash, which results in a competing product billed as being more open than the original product (like Android). If that competing product finds its market, the two often find some kind of competitive equilibrium.
Ultimately, users have more choices, which is a good thing.
That's what's going on right now in the world of software containers, which sounds about as much fun as watching paint dry, but is growing fast and has the potential to be a huge market. It's all about helping companies get tremendous cost savings by running their IT infrastructure more efficiently. Even Microsoft has gotten in on the fun with its own container technology.
Docker, the company that essentially invented the market, recently raised a monster $95 million round of financing and is maneuvering to corner the market by selling not only the core container technology, but also all the other stuff you need to make it work at large scales.
In our metaphor, Docker is the iPhone.
The competition comes in the form of CoreOS, which used to be friends with Docker before the two companies had a public falling-out last year. CoreOS thought that Docker was exerting too much control over the container market, and so launched "appc," a competing standard that CoreOS promises will be driven less by any one company and more by the community of developers who use it.
In our metaphor, app is Android.
When last we heard from CoreOS, it had raised its own round of funding with participation from Google Ventures.
At today's CoreOS Fest event in San Francisco, the company announced that Google, VMware, Red Hat, and Apcera have all signed on to support appc in their own software. That means developers can use either Docker or appc at their own preference in any of those clouds.
CoreOS CEO and co-founder Alex Polvi says that his company is selling the idea of "GIFEE," or "Google's infrastructure for everybody else." Google has long been using containers to maximize its own efficiency behind the scenes, and Polvi says the time has come for everybody else to do the same.
Appc supports both Docker containers as well as its own, which means that developers don't have to choose. They can just use either. It means there's no reason for vendors not to adopt the standard.
Docker's momentum will be hard to stop. But a bunch of big technology companies getting together to provide a viable alternative should give the red-hot startup pause.