Former MySQL CEO: More successful open source startups needed

At EclipseCon 2010, the executive discussed the shortage of big-money open source ventures

Open source is no longer considered the wild underdog, but it will need more new companies making money off the trend, the one-time CEO of MySQL stressed Wednesday at the EclipseCon 2010 conference.

Panelists from the software industry pondered the future of open source during a late-afternoon session at the Santa Clara, California, conference. Panelist Marten Mickos, who was the longtime CEO of open source database vendor MySQL, emphasized that there has been a shortage of new companies making lots of money off of open source. Instead, established commercially based companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle are underwriting open source along with open source foundations like the Apache Software Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, Linux Foundation, and Mozilla.

"Hopefully, there will be great, great startups as well who will make millions and billions of dollars but that's actually where we haven't really reached victory yet. We have had a handful of great financial successes in open source [such as] Red Hat, JBoss, MySQL, XenSource," said Mickos. "But it isn't enough."

Mickos recently became CEO of open source cloud technology startup Eucalyptus. MySQL was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2008 and is now Oracle property, given Oracle's absorption of Sun in January. MySQL, Mickos said, was able to produce a lot of GPL code for the open source movement because "there were revenues all the time." Even so, Mickos said some criticized the company for its dual licensing plan, which had the company offering its software via open source but also selling subscriptions that featured support services.

Also emphasizing a need for revenues to underwrite open source was  panelist Justin Erenkrantz, president of the Apache Software Foundation.

"There needs to be kind of a spot in the ecosystem for commercial companies to make money so that developers can contribute and that they can have living wages" Erenkrantz said. It will be both open source communities such as Eclipse and venture capital-backed startups ensuring the future of open source, said Erenkrantz.

Offering a different perspective on the future of open source, analyst Stephen O'Grady, of RedMonk, stressed decentralized development and an infrastructure to support that.

"To me, the future looks a lot more like GitHub," for collaborating on software projects, he said. GitHub is based on the Git software version control system.

O'Grady also stressed the potential of data in the open source, in which information can be aggregated and analyzed.

"To me, the most obvious untapped revenue opportunity for open source is data," O'Grady said.

Despite assertions by some that open source cannot innovate and just commoditizes markets, O'Grady said open source has enabled innovation in areas such as cloud computing. But it can be an aggressive commoditizer, he acknowledged.

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