ARN: What is the history behind Squiz.net?
John-Paul Syriatowicz: Five years ago, we were working for a software development house that made communities for the Internet. A few years later there were a few of us who hived off into a Web development arm, and most of that group then formed Squiz.net.
As software developers, we were always building sites for people. But we were never the type of company to be updating their Web sites for them. We were techies; we simply didn't know enough about their business to be constantly updating their sites for them. So soon enough we were developing some simple content management tools.
How did these simple content management tools evolve to where they are today?
JPS: We won a couple of very large tenders - some of them with major corporates. We had to create some new intellectual property to complete those projects. It took us a lot of time and was very expensive. We wanted to come up with something reusable, so we went for a fairly loose form of open-source arrangement.
How do you build a profitable business if you're giving away your IP for free?
JPS: What we found is that most people can't be bothered building their own Web site. They prefer to engage with a professional services organisation. We believe IT is moving toward more of a services-based industry than a product-based industry. So we used all the resources we had to build a proper open-source project.
How does this model work?
JPS: We call it mysource. It is a tool designed for use in very large organisations with complex needs. When we engage with a client, the software is free. But all the services - the design and installation, the back-end integration, the testing, training and the support - are charged out at standard commercial rates.
At the end of the project the client owns their copy of the software, but so do we. We update our Web site with a download of the new version and the next Squiz.net client gets all the benefits of that work.
Do existing clients get the benefits of the improvements you make to the code?
JPS: Once you are one of our clients, you gain access to all of our upgrades. For every new customer there is someone who wants something to be added to it. So we tell them how long it will take to build the new module, and how much it will cost them. Then we add that module to the mysource project. Existing clients can do a simple upgrade for free. They just download it from the Web site. But if it needs customisation or it takes up any of our time to go in and upgrade it for them, we charge for the time we spend.
How does the growth of this software compare to the growth of proprietary software?
JPS: It's very fast. We have long held the belief that this is the future of software development. Look at Apache and SendMail; they are robust, they are reliable, and they are taking over the world in terms of market share. In that kind of environment, where open source is kicking goals, the chances of building proprietary software are becoming slim. That was the old way. This is the new way.
What's more, you can be sure the software is stable. We have had independent auditors check the integrity of mysource and they can't break it. The development never gets ahead of itself, so neither does our company. We do everything in increments as it's needed by the market, and we don't embark on anything we can't afford.