Aras Goes Open Source

The software vendor makes its Innovator product available under the Microsoft Community License.

Product lifecycle management software maker Aras has a new spin on open source: make the code to its Aras Innovator software, which runs only on proprietary Microsoft technologies, openly available under the Microsoft Community License and hosted on Microsofts CodePlex Web site.

Aras was slated to announce 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.

In addition, the Lawrence, Mass., company planned to announce the availability of Version 8 of its Aras Innovator suite, as well as the consulting services, training and education programs and support packages that go along with it.

Aras also has no intention of using a license approved by the Open Source Initiative or of releasing a version of its Aras Innovator software for Linux, Schroer said. The Microsoft Community License is one of the Redmond, Wash., software makers Shared Source licenses, none of which has been submitted for OSI approval under the Open Source Definition. Codeplex is Microsofts open-source project hosting Web site.

While the Aras Innovator needs at least Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with .Net 2.0 and SQL Server 2005 to run, it also supports Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.

Schroer said he expects "some controversy or 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 its for," he said. "The open-source community is really a fairly closed group of people. Essentially, its the programmers who create the code. Also, most of the way [the code] is packaged and offered is palatable to someone who is also a programmer."

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, agreed, saying that Aras move is "unlikely to please those open-source advocates who favor the GNU General Public License [GPL] and oppose Microsoft, of which there are many. But if this new business model proves sustainable, Aras customers will benefit."

While Schroer said he is a believer in open source, he said the "whole community has gotten a little too biased towards a very narrow thinking: that its not open source if it doesnt run on Linux. What open source is about for us and our customers is control and flexibility."

Some customers, such as Dennis Henning, an IT manager for Ogihara America, in Howell, Mich., agreed. "Im not interested in a religious war about whats truly open source and whats 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," Henning said.

The move to an open distribution model had made implementing Aras Innovator about one-third cheaper than its competitors, with further savings down the line as the company rolled the software out beyond its initial use in its quality department, Henning said.

Aras Schroer also pointed out that its open play with Microsoft takes open source as an idea to a different and far bigger audience: IT professionals such as business analysts and programmers who know the Microsoft environment.

"Heres a chance to offer a bigger audience something that is still very much open source in terms of beliefs, [but with] a different agreement," Schroer said.

Helm agreed, noting that if successful, it would put an open source product into the hands of different types of users than previous products such as OpenOffice.org have done.

Asked if Aras had looked at using a license approved by the OSI, Schroer said the company had looked at the GPL, but some customers were confused about it. Customers were particularly concerned about whether they would be legally obligated to submit back any changes they made to code under that license. "The perception is that open source comes with this obligation, which is fine for programmers but concerns businesses," Schroer said.