Weka development stays at Waikato Uni

The university has sold an exclusive license to sell Weka's analytical software

Reports that the University of Waikato's Weka open source software project has been sold and staff transferred to a US software company have been somewhat exaggerated.

But a deal inked between commercialisation company WaikatoLink and open source business intelligence software developer Pentaho last month is still a major boost for both the project and the university.

Mark Hall, a senior lecturer in the university’s computer science faculty, says the university has sold Pentaho an exclusive license to sell Weka’s analytical software as part of its business intelligence product, but contrary to reports out of the US, the core developers will remain employed by and based at Waikato University.

Pentaho has also taken control of Weka’s SourceForge software distribution site and bought rights to use the Weka brand under the deal.

“We will be working closely with them to integrate Weka with the Pentaho platform,” Hall says, adding that the university has reserved its rights to licence Weka for applications other than business intelligence.

US commercial open source software company Pentaho announced it had acquired the Weka project two weeks ago to incorporate advanced analytics and data mining into its business intelligence suite.

Chairman and co-founder Andre Boisvert says the acquisition show there is no capability or application in the business intelligence market that can’t be addressed by the open source community.

Pentaho is one of a number of companies using open source models and licenses to develop software in competition with proprietary software vendors. US-based Sugar CRM is doing similar work in developing open source customer relationship management software. Generally these companies offer a free download of the core software but charge for “Pro” versions, additional modules and services.

Hall says the deal will enhance development of Weka as Pentaho will take over much of the burden for servicing users and allow the Waikato team to concentrate on development.

Waikato University has also won increased recognition and kudos out of the deal, he says.

Development of Weka, which stands for Waikato Environment for Knowledge Analysis, began in 1993. It was the university’s first government-funded computer science research project, at the time under Professor Ian Witten. The aim was to produce a software workbench that would combine techniques from machine learning (a subfield of artificial intelligence) and data mining into one framework.

At the time, data mining software for research was in all sorts of different languages and formats. After development of the workbench and algorithms, Waikato’s research efforts moved to concentrate on applying machine learning to New Zealand data, such as large agricultural data sets.

In 1997, shortly after Hall joined the core group of developers, the workbench was redeveloped in Java to run on any hardware platform. It was a combination of the software’s capabilities, its open source license, a very large user base and the fact it was developed in Java that attracted Pentaho’s attention, Hall says.

The company made its first approach to acquire the project a year or so ago.

Weka has produced a large number of spin-off projects. One of these involves developing algorithms to mine and analyse very large data sets, possibly even infinite data sets, as they stream on a network such as the internet.

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