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How one vendor learned to stop worrying (about open source) and love Microsoft

Aras still happy with decision to open source its PLM software on Windows

By Eric Lai
May 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Aras Corp. was a small, struggling software maker that stirred up a hornet's nest early last year, when it made a pair of seemingly contradictory decisions.

First, the Andover, Mass.-based company made its expensive — we're talking up to a million dollars for a single license — product life-cycle management (PLM) software available on a free and open-source basis.

Second, rather than trying to curry favor with the mainstream open-source community by making even a vague commitment to port its software to Linux, Aras said outright that it would continue developing only for Windows. And instead of distributing its wares through a mechanism such as the GNU General Public License, the company decided to use one of Microsoft's so-called shared-source licenses, which at the time had yet to be accepted by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as legitimate open-source licenses.

The reaction, unsurprisingly, wasn't favorable. For example, Dave Rosenberg, an open-source executive who at the time was a columnist for Computerworld's sister publication InfoWorld, described Aras as a "shill" for Microsoft's efforts to burnish its open-source image. Aras denied that, although the company later disclosed that it had received an "executive sponsorship" from Microsoft's open-source group.

"We knew this had the potential to be inflammatory," said Marc Lind, vice president of marketing at Aras, in an interview last week.

Plenty of other open-source proponents were also running their software on Windows, though perhaps not in such a bold fashion as Aras did. That includes vendors such as SugarCRM Inc., Terracotta Inc. and MySQL AB, plus OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Corp. with its Firefox browser. Even Linux standard-bearer Red Hat Inc. gets about half of the sales for its JBoss application server from Windows users.

Thanks partly to Microsoft's financial support, Aras held on, and the controversy around it was short-lived — an indicator, perhaps, of how much open source has been transformed for many companies from a grass-roots social movement into simply a more agile way of bringing software to market.

Although Aras recorded less than $20 million in sales last year, the company's enterprise subscriptions — now its only revenue source — grew 180% last year. That number of new subscriptions was "over plan," CEO Peter Schroer said. "Our investors are very happy with that." Meanwhile, the company's expenses became a fraction of what they were in the past, thanks to Ara dumping all of its high-paid salespeople.



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