Open Source Impact on Tools

Has open source killed the tools market? John De Goes, president of N-Brain, which makes Una, a source code editor, made a big splash recently with an interview on DZone where he detailed why he believes the commercial software development tools market is dead.

Discussing his company's decision to make the personal edition of Una free, De Goes said in the Q&A: "We never intended Personal Edition to be free. Years of work and cutting-edge research went into this editor, and it rivals, even surpasses, commercial editors that are selling for $100, $200 even $400 a pop. Even though it wasn't our primary goal, we realized that we produced a standalone editor of great value, and we hoped to use Personal Edition to subsidize some of the costs of developing Una."

However, "Unfortunately for us, that wasn't meant to be," De Goes said. "The tools market is dead. Open source killed it. The only commercial development tools that can survive today are the ones that leapfrog open source tools. With Una Collaborative Edition, we have that--there's nothing for real-time collaborative development that even comes close, whether commercial or open source. But Una Personal Edition is more of an incremental improvement on what's out there in the editing world."

Moreover, De Goes said the "Una Personal Edition was not going to persuade Java developers to stop using Eclipse or Idea [JetBrains' IntelliJ Idea, a Java integrated development environment (IDE)], .Net developers to stop using Visual Studio, Ruby developers to stop using TextMate, or die-hard Emacs and Vi developers from using those respective editors. Why? Because stripped of its collaborative features, what remains is an incremental improvement on the status quo. Incremental improvements that cost money don't fare well against free tools. Especially not in the context of a developer tool, which is a very personal issue to many. Some developers would rather quit their job than be forced to use a new editor or IDE."

De Goes' interview is a good read and represents another in a vast series of tales of tool vendors struggling to contend with the impact of free and open-source tools. Witness Borland's transformation from IDE and core developer tool maker, to spinning off and finally selling its CodeGear tools subsidiary to Embarcadero so Borland could focus on the application lifecycle management (ALM) market. Eclipse has had an enormous impact.

"I have personally been involved in the software tools business for 20 years," said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse. "It is not news that it is a tough market segment. If you want to make money, you have to constantly demonstrate value to your customers. This is not a new dynamic, and it has nothing to do with open source."

Mike's right. It's not new news. But the story continues.

In a letter describing what led to the shuttering of Agitar Software earlier this spring, Jerry Rudisin. former CEO of the company, wrote: "You may have heard that Agitar is shutting down. That's correct, after a rewarding journey of 5-1/2 years. We solved a real business problem. We had a bold vision which went far beyond what we disclosed to the public (and which accounted for our impressive valuations). We had a world-class team in all functional areas; we did not fail for lack of talent, intensity, creativity, or teamwork. We had the support of terrific investors - Sequoia Capital (Doug Leone), NEA (Peter Morris), and Globespan Capital (Venky Ganesan) - who shared the Agitar team's passion for our vision. But the market feedback was clear: the opportunity proved too small to be worthy of additional funding by these top VCs. We saw we could build a small profitable company but not a hugely valuable company that would change how people build software. So the exec team decided in late March not to pursue additional funding and to shut down."

Now, Jerry doesn't mention open source as an issue in his letter, but he does discuss the toils of trying to make money in the software tools business. Yet, he still wants to come back and give it another try with another company.

"I will now look for my next CEO opportunity, seeking a company that I can be as passionate about as Agitar," Rudisin said. "I won't pursue 'me too' companies or those focused on consumers, social networking, aggregating and monetizing eyeballs, or catering to the whims of teenagers. These are all worthy businesses but I'll stick with my strength: software solutions or software-intensive services that solve real business problems for Global 2000-class customers."

Back to the impact of Eclipse... Curl Inc. earlier this week announced the availability of a beta of its Eclipse-based Curl Rich Internet Application (RIA) development tools. This is just the most recent in what seems like weekly tools announcements based on Eclipse.

The new tools represent the first release of the Curl Development tools for Eclipse (CDE) and newest release of the Curl Runtime Environment (RTE), Version 6.0.4, which provide enterprise developers with the tools to build and deploy enterprise-class RIAs within the Eclipse environment. The CDE is a set of Eclipse plug-ins that provides an environment for developing programs in the Curl language for the Curl RIA platform. Curl recently announced its intention to eventually replace all of its development tools with Eclipse-based ones.

Meanwhile, in a June 9 report on the use of open-source technology in the enterprise, Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond came up with a handful of key findings, such as: "Low superficial interest in open source is compounded by low awareness of it; among those using open source, security, availability of service and support, and TCO are the primary concerns; and decision-makers aren't aware of their use of open source wrapped in commercial products from IBM, Novell, and Sun."

Hammond also found that "Open source frameworks such as Spring and languages such as PHP are better known by name than license model;" and "Open source adopters show a particular affinity to Agile software development processes."