Autodesk Shifts Business Model

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-12-05 Print this article Print

Vendor open-sources mapserver enterprise.

Software vendor Autodesk Inc. last week decided that its business model would be better served by open-sourcing its MapGuide product and shifting the companys focus to developing applications that run on top of it.

Autodesk, of San Rafael, Calif., has contributed the code for what would have been the next version of MapGuide, code-named Tux, to the open-source community.

A snapshot of that source code, now known as MapServer Enterprise, is available through the recently established MapServer Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to support and promote open-source Web mapping, said Gary Lang, vice president of engineering for Autodesks Infrastructure Solutions Division.

Autodesk plans to release the full MapServer Enterprise code as open source early next year. The code will be licensed under the GNU Lesser General Public License, or LGPL.

The move has met with customer approval. "Its a great move to get this quality of software out into the reach of the public developer community," said Andy Morsell, president of Spatial Integrators Inc., in Mead, Wash. "This is easily the gutsiest move I have seen from a commercial geographical information systems software company and is just the kind of thing we need to stimulate the market and foster growth."

Autodesk is the latest in a line of software vendors to acknowledge the financial advantages of open-sourcing a significant commercial software product to spur faster innovation, more product releases and a lower total cost of ownership. Sun Microsystems Inc. open-sourced its Solaris operating system, and Novell Inc. has decided to have all its software run on Linux.

MapServer Enterprise enables developers to create and deploy spatial applications and works with the latest PHP, .Net and Java tools so that applications for Windows or Linux server environments can be built.

Developers can also publish spatial views internally, over the Web or by using Autodesks DWF (Design Web Format) viewing technology for offline portability, Lang said.

"The reason we did this is that it is the kind of software that converts well to open source, as it is very request/ response-oriented," Lang said. "Customers had also been asking us to include the [Web Map Server, or WMS] open protocol for rendering images, which is supported by the [Open Geospatial Consortium]."

But the WMS open protocol initially did not pass the threshold of user interest for Autodesk to put it in the requirements and get it into the product release cycle. However, as requests for that grew, the company realized that it would be much better to allow developers to do this themselves.

Autodesk will be focusing on building applications on top of MapServer Enterprise, as this is the most lucrative revenue opportunity, Lang said.

The company also plans to offer a commercial version of the product called Autodesk MapServer Enterprise next year.

Spatial Integrators has been using the beta and preview versions of MapServer Enterprise for a number of months and liked the "incredible development environment that Autodesk has built into the product," Morsell said. "We will most likely purchase and continue to use that software to build new applications and then modify them from there with our own custom code," he said.

Open-source moves by Autodesk

* Joins forces with DM Solutions Group Inc., the University of Minnesota MapServer Project and the MapServer Technical Steering Committee to form the MapServer Foundation

* Contributes its new map server product, MapServer Enterprise, to the open-source community

* MapServer will be licensed under the LGPL

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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