Progress Embraces Open Source with Eclipse-Based Tools

Q&A: Progress Software's Joe Alsop explains the strategy behind the vendor's move to open source.

With commercial software vendors alternately being challenged and aided by the open-source business model, Progress Software Corp., a $400 million publicly held commercial software vendor, in Bedford, Mass., has charted an independent course.

Progress recently announced it will adopt the open-source Eclipse development environment for its products, which provide the infrastructure underpinning for third-party applications for vertical industries. Joe Alsop, co-founder and CEO of Progress, met with eWEEK Executive Editor Stan Gibson at Progress recent customer and partner conference in Orlando, Fla., explaining Progress business model in the face of open source and the reasons behind the companys strategy of maintaining four main units: Progress OpenEdge, DataDirect, Sonic Software and Progress Real Time.

You just announced your adoption of Eclipse-based development tools. Can you explain your strategy?

Weve chosen to move the next generation of the Progress development environment to Eclipse, which is not an unusual decision on the part of software companies these days. It gets you the benefit of not having to do all the work yourself, and it gives the customers the benefit of a lot of other stuff based on Eclipse they can use, whether its commercial software or open source. It enhances the offerings of anyone who chooses to adopt it. Its clearly much more open than Visual Studio, starting with the fact that it will run on a lot of platforms.

Are the intellectual property issues that some open-source opponents have raised in recent years resolved to your satisfaction?

With regard to Eclipse, the licensing is fairly benign. In general, my view of the GPL, which is something a number of years ago we had a run-in with, is that its a bit of an inhibitor to the growth of open source. It arises from the attitude of the folks at the Free Software Foundation—which is all well and good—but it somewhat inhibits the growth of open source where its applicable.

One of the reasons we attract developers is that we get them out of the system programming business, which neither Java nor .Net get them out of. But the revenue for us comes primarily from the deployment of applications, so when developers succeed, we participate in that. Thats a fairly unique business model in the industry, to have 50 percent of the revenue of the company come from the work and success of other software companies.

Service-oriented architectures are attracting a lot of attention. How does SOA factor into your strategy?

The issue of getting software so that its much more easily interoperable is certainly among the top two or three issues to be dealt with by the software industry over the next five years or so. Getting software to plug and play the way hardware does is critically important.

What does it mean for us? The two parts of the company that are most affected by SOA are Sonic, because we offer the enterprise service bus, which is the kind of infrastructure you need to deploy SOA, and OpenEdge, because it will shift the balance—which is a constant tug of war—between buying most of your applications from a single vendor in order to get integration, versus doing it yourself. Its to [our partners] benefit if their applications can interoperate with other applications.

What about the open-source model in general? As a commercial software vendor, how do you see things playing out in the future?

Open source challenges the commercial software industry to add value and innovate. It eliminates the "easy street" of charging people a lot of money for something that doesnt have much innovation in it. Our answer to open source is to not compete in areas where we cant innovate and to recognize that well have to keep innovating or face appropriate competition from open source. Theres a natural pressure that will act on monopolies or near monopolies, and its great to see that there is an open-source alternative.

The other comment Ill make is that its not going to start in the States; its going to start outside. And its not going to start with big corporations but with smaller ones and with government entities. Open source has been and will continue to be most successful away from the U.S. and away from large corporations. The way it reflects itself in Progress strategy is we choose to solve big, tough problems that are not well-suited to open source. Building something like Sonic or DataDirect or Progress Real Time—maybe those will be open-source projects in 20 years but not any time soon.


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