Once a concept thought to be oxymoronic, the business of open-source software is now working its way through adolescence to full-blown maturity. And the recent Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco proved that like the teen years, the transition brings growing pains.
As a new wave of applications vendors begin to take centre stage in the open-source market - replacing software infrastructure vendors such as JBoss and MySQL as the industry's up-and-comers - consolidation threatens to consume some of those more established companies that led the first-wave of making a viable business model out of open source.
In fact, Atlanta-based JBoss itself was rumoured to be a target of acquisition by Oracle as the OSBC opened. Instead, Oracle announced it would purchase embedded open-source database maker Sleepycat Software, another early entrant into the professional open-source market.
Chomping the bit
While market pioneers go to bed at night wondering which technology powerhouse may own them in the morning, start-up applications vendors are chomping at the bit to make their mark using the business model that MySQL and JBoss made popular, and which now has the backing of more established companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems.
That model is to offer open-source software with a free license, while using professional services, maintenance and support for these products to derive revenue.
Once a niche play, this model has become completely acceptable in big deployments as part of software infrastructure - the plumbing layer that includes an OS, application server, database and other software on which end-user applications are built.
This stack of software has become credible enough to have its own name - the Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python (LAMP) stack - and its establishment has made way for applications vendors to jockey for position higher up the open-source food chain.
"As predicted, open-source is moving up the stack," Pentaho CEO, Richard Daley, said during a demonstration of his company's open-source business intelligence application.
Daley's company was one of a host of other upstart applications vendors that were invited to showcase their wares at OSBC.
Among them was the new darling of professional open-source, SugarCRM, which offers customer relationship management software. Another was Project.net, a company with a project portfolio management tool that recently decided to open-source its software because selling software licenses was no longer cost-effective, according to CEO, Peter Windston.
"We realised we can drive this [company] a lot faster with an open-source model than a commercial model," he said.