Can CA buy an open source movement?

It was an interesting week on the open source front. Computer Associates took their low-market-share Ingres database and released it under an open source license. Of course, there are already several widely-used databases (such as MySQL and PostgreSQL - itself a derivative of an earlier version of Ingres) available under open source licenses. The more interesting part of the news is that CA has also put up one million dollars in bounty money for open source developers who help out with migration utilities designed to move applications from other databases to Ingres.

Apparently CA is hoping that this database will give them instant entry to the open source movement, where competitors like IBM have been hanging out for a while. There are some interesting aspects to the bounty money, though. For one, the definition of "open source developer" is so broad that it pretty much applies to anyone (or at least anyone who lives in one of a short list of countries where the legal department has cleared things). The only real requirement is to license the code to CA and then release it under an open source license. So it wouldn't surprise me to see existing Ingres integrators actually win all of the money. Also, the million bucks is split up into a batch of smaller prizes; nearly half the money, for example, is set aside to promote Oracle migration.

A million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of software development it isn't really all that much. (In the back of my mind, I can hear Dr. Evil plotting to hold the world ransom for ONE MILLION dollars). Even in the open source world, that doesn't amount to all that much cash. One recent study, for example, suggests that the Perl code on CPAN amounts to over 5,000 person-years of work. CA isn't asking for fifteen million lines of perl, but they're not after something trivial either.

All in all, I'm extremely skeptical of this attempt to jump-start Ingres into the open source community, especially when they're competing against established contenders in the open source database field. I suspect those most interested will be CA's existing ISVs and VARs, who already have skills with the product (as well as a vested interest in having it succeed). Ultimately, though, sponsored open source strikes me as being very similar to the company unions of the 1930s. Those were unions that were sponsored and run by the unionized companies themselves, and they were surplanted in the medium run by more independent labor unions. In the same way, I don't think a sponsored open source movement is likely to take much mindshare away from the free-for-all existing open source projects.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.



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