The Laszlo platform is a presentation-layer system and application framework for creating rich Web applications that maintain desktop software qualities and ease of use, according to the San Francisco company.
Laszlo competes directly with Macromedia Inc., also of San Francisco, in the rich Internet applications space. Some observers view Laszlos open-source move as a strategic, if not venturesome, strike against Macromedia and its leadership position in the space. Laszlos software is used for creating applications for Web applications such as e-commerce and e-communications.
In addition to open-sourcing its platform, Laszlo also announced a new version of the Laszlo server, Laszlo Presentation Server 2.2, which features new support for the Simple Object Access Protocol, Java Remote Procedure Call and XML-RPC connectors for data integration. The new release also includes a profiling tool and more than 500 pages of new developer documentation.
In essence, the open-source move means Laszlo is moving to more of a support, services and maintenance role for its software. In a blog entry, David Temkin, chief technology officer of Laszlo, said, "Laszlo itself has shifted its business model from platform licensing to professional services, support, and commercial application development."
Lazslo President and CEO Steve Ciesinski said Laszlo decided to open-source its platform "to establish a free and open platform for rich client application development and deployment. As a result, we expect to accelerate the adoption of rich client applications on the open Web, as well as enhance the quality, performance and feature set of the Laszlo platform. Laszlo Systems will continue to develop the open-source platform, along with providing commercial application modules, support and education programs for customers."
Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, in Waltham, Mass., called Laszlos decision "interesting" but also "somewhat desperate." Schmelzer said, "The issue is that Macromedia is the real juggernaut here. Their Flex product is going to significantly impact the market for rich client technology, and its hard to see how a startup can effectively compete against a company with 98-percent penetration on the desktop and millions of developer customers."
Schmelzer said open source should not be viewed as a panacea. "Startups now think that open source is the magic bullet that somehow helps them avoid having to effectively sell and market their product. There are two fallacies with this thought. First, that open source means free. If its free, then open source by definition isnt a business model. If its not free, then you still have to sell it. Second, why would a developer want to put their time and effort into developing a Flash-based application that has a limited market when you can spend the same amount of time developing on top of a platform that already has millions of users?
"Fundamentally, Laszlo will have to compete directly with Macromedia for Flash-based rich clients. They only way they can survive is to produce a well-differentiated value proposition for both end-user customers and developers. Open source doesnt do anything to help that value proposition."
Brian Behlendorf, founder and chief technology officer of CollabNet and board member of the Apache Software Foundation, said in a statement, "Until now, the open source community has lacked a truly cross-platform no-extra-download-required rich Web environment. Many are heading in that direction, but Laszlo has been there for years with a platform now in its second generation. Now that its released under an open source license, developers can be reassured that the future of this technology is in their own hands; it also opens the door to integration with other open source projects."