Apache's Greg Stein says commercial software's days are numbered

Instead, we'll be paying for software support in the years ahead, he says

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The days of selling software through the traditional commercial model are numbered, as open-source becomes the preferred choice, Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, said at the EclipseCon 2006 conference yesterday.

Software is becoming increasingly commoditized, he said during a keynote presentation, and more of it is available at no charge, and it is easy to get. He cited the OpenOffice office automation package as an example of free software that can replace Microsoft Office.

"As the [open-source] stack grows and grows and takes over more areas, there's less money available in packaged products," Stein said. "All of your software [will be] free. It means that over time, you aren't going to be paying for software anymore" but will instead pay for assistance with it.

The shift could take an estimated five to 10 years, he said. "The notion of [a] packaged product is really going to kind of go away," Stein said.

Eventually, a free software project will overtake a commercial effort in functionality; there are almost always more developers in the open-source community, Stein pointed out.

Making money in software will involve selling assistance services for functions such as installation, configuration, maintenance, upgrading, testing and customization, Stein said. Basic software components themselves will be free, he said.

"As our systems grow more and more complex, more and more assistance is necessary," he said.

An audience member was not so willing to concede the software market to open-source. "I think there's always going to be a spot for commercial, closed-source for specialized tasks, but the base infrastructure will be more open-source or easily available," said Danny D'Amours, computer systems officer at the National Research Council.

Commercial, closed-source software will not go away "because there's so many small niches that people will be able to exploit or be able to make commercial solutions off of," D'Amours said.

In other parts of his presentation, Stein discussed the evolution of software licensing and compared Apache to Eclipse. "A license can ruin a perfectly good piece of software," Stein said, borrowing a quote from fellow Apache participant Jon Stevens. "A bad license can make it so restrictive that nobody wants to use [the software]."

Licensing has taken various forms, ranging from the traditional proprietary license used by Microsoft Corp., IBM, and Oracle Corp. to Microsoft's somewhat less-restrictive Shared Source license and the all-access GNU General Public License (GPL), which has caused problems, Stein said.

"The GPL is sometimes considered viral in that it grows out to the entire software package" and requires the release of all code affected by it, he said.

Even licenses associated with Yahoo Inc., Microsoft's MSN and Google Inc., where Stein is employed, are closed, he said. "Their software is also closed. It's proprietary; you can't get at it," said Klein.

In comparing Eclipse and Apache, Stein said Eclipse looked at the Apache model when it was founded. Like Apache, which started with a Web server, Eclipse has expanded beyond its original mission and is now more than just an integrated development environment. But Eclipse has paid staff while Apache is all volunteers, said Stein.

"Our organizations [have] not been very close, but certainly we're starting to see more cooperation between them," Stein said.

Apache has long-term initiatives under way such as its Harmony Java 2 Standard Edition implementation, Stein said. Apache also has taken on endeavors that would have been surprising several years ago, such as the Derby database, he said.

Stein cited patents as an issue for open-source, particularly in the area of standards. "Standards that have patents in them are going to be very difficult and one of the big areas in the future that are going to cause problems for open-source," he said.

This story, "Apache's Greg Stein says commercial software's days are numbered" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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