Aras was a small, struggling software maker that stirred up a hornet's nest early last year, when it made a pair of seemingly contradictory decisions.
First, the US-based company made its expensive -- we're talking up to a million dollars for a single license -- product life-cycle management (PLM) software available on a free and open-source basis.
Second, rather than trying to curry favor with the mainstream open-source community by making even a vague commitment to port its software to Linux, Aras said outright that it would continue developing only for Windows. And instead of distributing its wares through a mechanism such as the GNU General Public License, the company decided to use one of Microsoft's so-called shared-source licenses, which at the time had yet to be accepted by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as legitimate open-source licenses.
The reaction, unsurprisingly, wasn't favorable. For example, Dave Rosenberg, an open-source executive, described Aras as a "shill" for Microsoft's efforts to burnish its open-source image. Aras denied that, although the company later disclosed that it had received an "executive sponsorship" from Microsoft's open-source group.
"We knew this had the potential to be inflammatory," said Marc Lind, vice president of marketing at Aras, in an interview last week.
Plenty of other open-source proponents were also were running their software on Windows, though perhaps not such a bold fashion as Aras did. That includes vendors such as SugarCRM, Terracotta and MySQL AB, plus OpenOffice.org and Mozilla with its Firefox browser. Even Linux standard-bearer Red Hat gets about half of the sales for its JBoss application server from Windows users.
Thanks partly to Microsoft's financial support, Aras held on, and the controversy around it was short-lived -- an indicator, perhaps, of how much open source has been transformed for many companies from a grass-roots social movement into simply a more agile way of bringing software to market.
Although Aras recorded less than US$20 million in sales last year, the company's enterprise subscriptions -- now its only revenue source -- grew 180 per cent last year. That number of new subscriptions was "over plan," CEO Peter Schroer said. "Our investors are very happy with that." Meanwhile, the company's expenses became a fraction of what they were in the past, thanks to Ara dumping all of its high-paid salesmen.
The total of 10,000 downloads reported by Aras for last year won't impress anyone familiar with Linux or MySQL stats. But Schroer said that downloaders of his company's software are much more likely to use it in production and eventually pay Aras for it.
To distribute its source code, Aras is using the OSI-approved Microsoft Public License, one of the few open-source licenses that don't require users to contribute their source code changes back to a vendor or open-source community. But why not choose the more-respected BSD license, which also doesn't have a source code contribution requirement.