Aras Move Puts New Spin on Open SourceBy Peter Galli | Print
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The company is moving away from a proprietary user-based licensing model to an open, distribution model where there is no charge for the use of its software.
Aras, which makes product life-cycle management software, has a new spin on open source: making the code to its Aras Innovator software, which only runs on proprietary Microsoft technologies, openly available under the Microsoft Community License and hosted on Microsoft's Codeplex Web site.
Aras will announce on Jan. 15 its move away from a proprietary user-based licensing model to an open, distribution model where there is no charge for, or limitation on, the use of its software, Peter Schroer, Aras' president and founder, told eWEEK.
The firm, headquartered in Lawrence, Mass., will also announce the availability of version 8 of its Aras Innovator suite of solutions, as well as the consulting services, training and education programs, and support packages that go with it.
Support packages range from $8,300 a month per production system for companies with revenue greater than $100 million to $4,100 a month for firms with annual revenue below $100 million.
While the Aras Innovator needs a minimum of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with .Net 2.0 and SQL Server 2005 to run, it also supports Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.
Aras also has no intention of using an OSI-approved license or releasing a version of its Aras Innovator version 8 software for the Linux operating system.
The Microsoft Community License is one of the Redmond, Wash. software maker's Shared Source licenses, none of which has been submitted to the OSI (Open Source Initiative) for approval under the Open Source Definition. Codeplex is Microsoft's open-source project hosting Web site.
Peter Schroer, president and founder of Aras Corp., told eWEEK that he expects "some controversy, at least heartburn" over these decisions. "For us, it is a matter of defining and deciding what open source really is, what it means and who it's for," he said.
"The open-source community is really a fairly closed group of people. Essentially it's the programmers who create the code. Also, most of the way that is packaged and offered is palatable to someone who is also a programmer," he said.
Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., agrees that the Aras' move is "unlikely to please those open-source advocates who favor the GNU General Public License and oppose Microsoft, of which there are many."
Helm added: "But if the business model, which is not that different from a vendor like Red Hat who also gives away the source code and charges for support, proves sustainable, Aras' customers will benefit."
While Schroer says he is a big believer in open source, the "whole community has gotten a little too biased toward a very narrow thinking: that it's not open source if it doesn't run on Linux. What open source is about for us and our customers is control and flexibility."
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Aras customers will be able to download its code, yet are not shackled to Aras as a software vendor. The license allows flexibility and the solutions can be used to deploy to as many users as needed. The source code can be changed, and users can contribute back to the project if they want to, he said.
"I just described open source and I didn't have to use the word Linux to do it," Schroer added.
Some customers, like Dennis Henning, the IT manager for Ogihara America in Howell, Mich., want to do all of those things with their software.
"I'm not interested in a religious war about what's truly open source and what's not. What we need are products that meet our needs, at the right price, and which will play well in our existing sandbox of Unix and Linux-based applications," he told eWEEK.
The move to an open distribution model has made implementing Aras' solution about a third cheaper than its competitors, with further savings down the line as the company rolls Aras Innovator out beyond its initial use to help service its quality department and the processes they use, Henning said.
Aras' Schroer also points to the fact that the play with Microsoft takes open source as an idea to a different, and far bigger, audience, to IT professionals such as business analysts and programmers who know the Microsoft environment.
"Here's a chance to offer a bigger audience something that is still very much open source in terms of beliefs, just a different agreement," he said.
Helms agrees, noting that, if successful, Aras Innovator would put an open source product into the hands of a different type of user than previous products like OpenOffice.org have done.
"Aras has a mature code base and has been in the product life-cycle management market for a while. Consequently, it might be able to keep up with the market and keep its code base working without any new software license sales," he said.
The company is also in a business where customization is important, which could also generate support and consulting business.
"However, Aras still has to prove it can make this transition and sustain a business on it. I look forward to seeing how it goes," Helms said.
Asked if Aras has looked at using a license approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative), Schroer said the company had looked at the GPL (General Public License), but when talking to its customers it encountered a lot of confusion with regard to the GPL.
This has raised some customer concerns, particularly about whether they would have a legal obligation to submit back any changes they made to that open-source code. "The perception is that open source comes with this obligation, which is fine for programmers, but not concerned businesses," he said.
Marc Lind, the vice president of marketing at Aras, said its business customers do not really understand the requirements of the GPL and were not prepared to be legally required to submit changes they made back to the project.
"As we are talking about enterprise solutions rather then the infrastructure, basically all our business customers will be customizing our solutions to support their specific competitive practices," he said.
The Microsoft Community License requires users to distribute that license along with any code they have changed and which they distribute. "But there is no requirement in this license that changes to the code have to be contributed back," he said.
But Directions on Microsoft's Helms feels that the Microsoft Community License is essentially an open-source license.
"There's a range of open-source licenses, from permissive to restrictive, but the right to modify and redistribute, which the Microsoft Community License offers, puts it on the permissive end," he told eWEEK.
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