Open-source software merits debated

Open-source proponents and a Microsoft official had varying perspectives on the value of the open-source model during separate...

Open-source proponents and a Microsoft official had varying perspectives on the value of the open-source model during separate discussions at the 2004 SIIA Enterprise Software Summit in San Francisco.

Representatives from MySQL, Novell, Collabnet and IBM offered positive slants on open source during a panel session.

Microsoft's Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of the company's Platform Strategy and Partner Group, was more sceptical of the development model..

While acknowledging that open source has a place, Fitzgerald cautioned developers about the practice of offering software for free.

"If you're interested in making a business out of software, that may not be the most compelling model," he said.

Despite concerns that open-source users may be those who simply do not want to pay for software, advocates of the paradigm stressed that money is being made on open source.

"The veneer is off and in fact, people do pay money," said Matt Asay, director of the Linux Business Office at Novell.

"The perception has changed. People no longer feel like they're going to get something for nothing."

Open source is subject to the misconceptions which it is not being used in business and that it is generated by developers who are not getting paid, Evans said. He added, however, that he does not predict "an entire open-source world".

In Novell's case, the company complements Linux with other products such as a collaboration suite, Asay said.

Open source will win out in lower-end installations. In such instances, a large commercial supplier such as Oracle will have trouble competing for Java application server business or database business against JBoss or MySQL, he said.

"You'll see the Oracles and BEAs continue to develop these fantastically featured products" for higher end customers, he said.

At MySQL, the company's dual licensing model allows for users to get the database free if they are not deploying it in a commercial application, noted Zack Urlocker, vice-president of marketing at MySQL.

Customers who will use the database in a commercial environment and do not want to publish any additions they make to the source code to pay for a licence, he said.

"We actually make our money very [similarly] to a traditional company", with 65% of revenues coming from licence fees, Urlocker said. Customers pay for licences and support like a traditional software model, he said.

MySQL experiences 35,000 downloads of its software daily, but only has 5,000 paying customers, said Urlocker.

Urlocker stressed that the software market has in fact changed. "The old model, which many of us lived through in the enterprise software industry, is high prices for software that doesn't really work and that's really not acceptable anymore."

Paul Krill writes for Infoworld

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