Riding on the open-source wagon

Emerging software and service vendors are attempting to piggyback on the popularity of Linux and other open-source projects.

In a market overflowing with Internet-enabled applications, vendors increasingly are counting on the magic words "open source" to attract venture capitalists, partners, and customer interest.

But are software vendors using open source merely as a way to stand out from the crowd? Or do open-source versions of applications merit consideration above and beyond the buzzword factor?

There's no question that commercial versions of applications that are built in adherence to open-source development procedures are proliferating. To qualify as a true open-source product, software is expected to be licensed under the GNU General Public License. Any changes made to the base source code by vendors, service providers, and/or customers must be returned to the developer community.

A number of software vendors are relying on these open-source principles to build and maintain their software and services offerings.

Akopia, for example, is billing itself as "the world's leading provider of open source e-commerce software and services." OpenSales -- which rebranded itself on Wednesday as Zelerate -- is making an almost identical claim, saying it is "the leading provider of open source e-commerce applications." Longtime real-time operating system vendor Lynx Realtime Systems recently renamed itself LynuxWorks to reflect its focus on embedded Linux.

And just about every enterprise computing vendor, from IBM Corp. (ibm) to Hewlett-Packard Co. (hwp), has found a way to jump onto the open-source bandwagon as of late.

Akopia, which last week announced an updated version of its Interchange open-source e-commerce platform, says it is betting on open source to do more than merely differentiate products.

"Akopia is to business-critical apps what Linux is to operating systems," said CEO Brett Pinegar.

"Open source makes our software easier to customize. We can do things more quickly, in terms of development, deployment, and customization. And there are shorter development, debugging, and testing cycles," Pinegar said.

Akopia's Interchange currently runs on Linux, Unix, and FreeBSD. Pinegar said there are "some initiatives under way" to move the product to Windows, but the company first needs some Perl upgrades, as well as some Windows customer interest. Akopia plans to make money both through selling Interchange and by providing managed and life-cycle services around the product.

Zelerate, which also markets an open-source e-commerce suite called AllCommerce, cites similar benefits stemming from its open-source heritage. The company was founded in 1998 by a former eToys (etys) vice president who found open source to be the most stable and reliable way to develop and deploy software, according to a company spokesman. AllCommerce runs on Linux, Solaris, and Windows NT.

Zelerate doesn't charge for its software but instead is making money from services. The company is planning to introduce an open-source version of a warehouse management product early next year.