Autodesk Shifts Business Model

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