The original article appeared at: http://www.plesman.com/cc/news/cc252127a.html

Linux giveaways drive open source movement

More vendors providing source code free of charge; working with it requires adjustments from IT staff

By Kathleen Sibley

The business freeware and open source software movement, which began as a trickle with the Linux operating system, has burgeoned into what some observers say could soon become a tsunami.

More and more companies, for example, are providing their source code — either including it as part of the package they sell or by making it available to anyone on the Internet — as a way to expand the market for their products or services and to allow others to build on it.

"I suspect the Linux wave was just the beginning of the open source code movement," says Sandra Potter, senior analyst for Linux services at the Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc. "I think we're going to see more of it."

However, she adds, "people are still grappling with the new model in terms of what the pieces are and how they fit (for them)."

Specifically, companies have to figure out how to make money if they're giving away the company jewels.

"It's not going to be by holding the source code close to their vest — it's going to be the applications. It's going to be the support," says Potter.

But working in this new model is not without its challenges — and making money is just one of them.

Frederic Boulanger, president of Ottawa-based Macadamian Technologies Inc., which provides software development services to major independent software vendors and corporate information technology departments across North America, notes that working with open source requires "some adaptations" on the corporate side.

Since programmers and developers from all over the world contribute to Linux development via the Internet, work gets done when it gets done — and no sooner.

"They (contributors) don't have the quarterly mindset," says Boulanger. Coming from the corporate world, that lack of organization and hierarchy can be daunting, he adds.

"You have to learn to live with that feeling that's always there; if you feel like something is not correct then you've got to voice it over a mailing list and see if people are going to pick it up."

Macadamian is currently helping Ottawa-based Corel Corp. develop WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux by contributing to the WINE project, an open-source Linux application that lets users run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows executables in a Linux environment. Macadamian is creating a Windows-to-Linux porting layer, which will make it easier for Corel to port its 32-bit Windows-based applications to the Linux platform.

Despite the decidedly uncorporate approach to development that Linux developers take, corporations are keen to cash in on not only the stability and reliability the open source operating system offers, but the possibility of a worldwide work force driven purely by love, not money.

"I kind of see those guys (Linux developers) as missionaries trying to help the poor people," says Boulanger. "It must be the same motivation because you get rewards from the community and it's very deep.

"Big enterprises see that and say, 'All the developers we've got are overworked — is there any way we can get leverage from the outside?'"

That attitude is indicative of the "hop on the bandwagon" mentality currently characterizing enterprises' attitude towards Linux, says Jordan Baker, technology manager at Toronto's Spyderlab, an Internet consulting company specializing in Web design and e-commerce which conducts its development work on open source platforms such as Linux and Apache, as well as free (and proprietary) database engines.

Baker says a lot of large companies are getting into the open source movement now in order to "cash in on the hype."

He adds, "In the end, you'll see a lot of companies that do develop a viable business model based on the distribution of software in an open way."

For example, Digital Creations Inc., a Fredericksburg, Va.-based business application consulting firm, moved to the open source model last December when it decided to unify its Bobo Web open source toolkit with its then-commercial Principia Web application platform. It then came out with Zope, the Z Objects Publishing Environment, which can be downloaded from the www.digicool.com Web site.

Digital Creations now bills itself as a consulting company, rather than as a software vendor.

According to vice-president and chief operating officer Rob Page, the company moved to the open source model at the suggestion of Verticality Investment Group, the Jersey City, N.J.-based venture capital firm that put US$750,000 into his company last fall.

Although Principia had fared well in consulting engagements, he says, it was never really developed into a product.

"It was the venture capitalists who suggested that to quickly bolster the company and the product line's credibility we open-source it and we did. And it has gone famously," says Page, who declines to provide any figures.

Although Digital Creations still has to defend its decision to those who believe that open source companies make their money from tech support and "selling T-shirts or writing books for (tech book publisher) O'Reilly and Associates Inc.," he says, the company is not among those who "believe open source is just the morally right thing to do."

The open source model works, he says, because once Digital Creations convinces users that Zope is the technically superior (and cheaper) product to use for Web publishing, the next step is to also show that who better to implement it than the company — and its roster of 850 people on the Digital Creations mailing list who contribute their fixes and improvements — that created it?

Plus, Page points out, "the fact it's open source means you're not subject to the whims of our business plan."

Although it has become commonplace for much bigger companies to make Linux-related announcements — Netscape Communications Corp.'s Communicator browser source code; Apple Computer Inc.'s Quick Time Streaming Server software and Darwin, the open source release of the Mac OS X operating system foundation; and Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect for Linux, to name a few —Linux alone does not tell the whole open source code story.

As Barbara Loonam explains, companies that are the first out with software often find there's only one way to create a market for it — and that's by giving away the source code so that other developers can use it to build their own products.

Loonam, product marketing manager at Framingham, Mass.-based Natural MicroSystems (NMS), says NMS recently announced its joint partnership with companies such as Motorola, Lucent and Ericsson in the Open Source for Open Telecom initiative to help fuel the growth for applications using CompactPCI, which NMS describes as a "ruggedized" hardware platform particularly suited to telecommunications systems.

Loonam says NMS was first to market with hot-swap CompactPCI boards.

However, explains NMS software engineering manager Luis Collado, "customers don't look at it unless they can couple it with other boards that perform the same function; the value of that function is limited by the number of vendors that provide a similar service."

Expanding or creating a market is only one reason for giving source code away, however.

Bill Hayden, vice-president of Montreal-based Chemical Computing Group, a company that develops and markets software and services for high-throughput screening and computer-aided molecular design for the drug discovery industry, says his company includes in each package sold the source code along with the applications.

That allows buyers to do things as simple as change an interface or as complex as creating their own applications based on the company's Scientific Vector Language, says Hayden.

It also allows the drug discovery industry to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

"We thought that was the way to go," he says. "That's how you react to science; it evolves very quickly and you shouldn't be trying to go forward and have the software stuck around your leg like a weight — it should be the other way around."

So far, the approach is working well, he says. "Believe me — the thing that's making us (grow rapidly) is this open source."