Open source start-ups speak out

We're going to make money from free software: conferencegoers

Entrepreneurs attending a recent forum in Germany showed how they plan to use clever open source products — commercially — to compete with proprietary software companies.

The Open Source Forum gave software entrepreneurs from Europe and the US an opportunity to present their business ideas to venture capitalists and other ICT experts. Their message was loud and clear: open source is a disruptive technology that is here to stay, and it will nibble, or maybe even someday gobble, away at the customer base of big and pricey commercial software companies.

The forum, the first of its kind in Germany, took place earlier in Potsdam, near Berlin. It was hosted by the Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering, IBM and Deutsche Telekom. Hasso Plattner is one of the co-founders of SAP.

Among the attendees was XenSource, the organisation founded and run by the original team that developed the Xen secure virtualisation technology. The team brought the technology to the open source community in 2003.

With Xen virtualisation, a thin software layer known as the Xen hypervisor is inserted between the server’s hardware and operating system. The hypervisor provides an abstraction layer that allows each physical server to run one or more virtual servers, effectively decoupling the operating system and its applications from the underlying physical server.

XenSource offers a free “community” product and a commercial product, XenEnterprise.

“Many big companies are interested in virtualisation today and they’re particularly interested in our open source approach because that lets them better see what’s going on inside this technology,” says XenSource chief architect Steve Hand.

Other attendees at the forum include Mindquarry, a German start-up founded by three former students of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering. The company has developed an open source collaboration system. It allows users to edit documents simultaneously, communicate via email, instant messaging or real-world meetings, and search for information through a range of channels.

Mindquarry plans to offer its first product in February.

Attendee SeeWhy Software is a British company that has used open source technology to develop a real-time business intelligence software system. Like many venture capital-funded startups, SeeWhy offers a free and commercial product.

SeeWhy has embraced the open development approach of the open source community because, as the company’s co-founder and chief executive Charles Nicholls put it, “we’re brave enough to realise that we can’t get everything right on our own.”

Another forum-goer, JasperSoft, is a San Francisco start-up that also offers open source-based business intelligence products. “There are a lot of BI products out there but many of them are targeted at big customers,” says Don Wight, JasperSoft’s vice president of worldwide field operations. “We’re talking about low-cost BI for the masses.”

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