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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Plea to Software Companies in Troubled Times

In our currently troubled economy, there is more risk than ever that companies will go under. Those that don't are probably considering trimming the fat on their product portfolios and concentrating on their biggest money makers.

This presents the possibility that some software products may be discontinued or abandoned. My plea is this—that companies open–source their software under an approved license if they are no longer marketing it.

While open–source is not a panacea for every application out there, it does at least add to the wealth of code available to programmers. Why reinvent the wheel if there is already a servicable component to use? Some software is reinvigorated via the open–source model. Some may just benefit other programming projects.

Of course, there is the possibility that a vibrant community will develop around it and opportunities may arise for providing support contracts. An example of this might be NetManage ECCO Pro (though not open–source). Another scenario is that programmers who worked on the product might continue to do so in their spare time, perhaps even with encouragement from their company. This demonstrates good will and is appreciated by many developers and end users. An example here might be OpenOffice (if there is a better example, please post it in the comments). Really, I am surprised that more companies don't do this.

I think perhaps some of them are afraid that the open–source product might be competition for them. Lay your fears to rest. If the open–source revolution has demonstrated anything, it is that despite there being high-quality, free solutions available, most companies continue to purchase commercial software.

Perhaps they do so partly out of habit, but more often than not, they do so because they have a company to hold accountable and service contracts to help with bugs or other issues they encounter. In fact, it is rare indeed to find a company that relies exclusively on free software.

As for competition—I think most people agree that a little competition brings out the best in all parties. It could be argued that many commercial products owe at least some of their success to competing with eachother and with free solutions. Competition drives innovation.

Once again, please consider releasing code for products that are no longer in your portfolio, or to your software assets if you are unfortunately forced to close your doors.


  1. One product that was released to open source and then brought back out of it is Cobian. Which even though it's no longer open source it's still freeware so unless you're a purist you may not care. I've read the guys notes about why he stopped releasing under open source but I have to say I never really understood what he was saying.

    Basically his argument seemed to be that since no one grabbed his project and started working on it, why should he bother releasing the source code. I figure if you're already taken the time to give public access to the code who has the spare time to close that access back off. But he worked in academia, so whatever.

    For those that do license software, I don't just wish they'd release it to open source if they're shelving it. I also wish some of them would allow you to re-license software to someone else. I worked for a very small company in the Kansas City area for a while and they were looking into buying a product for email campaign management. Frankly that's not something I really enjoy working on and I left shortly thereafter, but the point of the story is that I don't really understand why they wouldn't let the company sell the license to someone else if they found that they no longer had a need to use the product. Or lets say they weren't getting the results they wanted, then why not sell the license to someone else. Controlling attitudes like that drive me to want to put nothing but open source into most mid-range environments(what I'm good at, so I can't speak for other environments)

    Daniel J. Doughty

  2. Daniel, thank you for the comment. I think we can have the tendency to hold some projects too close. When others don't appear to value them as much as we do we get bleeding Deacon syndrome. Are you referring to Cobian Backup? I have used it before to backup personal Windows boxes and it does a good job.


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