Program Lets Open-Source Developers Reap Payment

REDWOOD CITY, CALIF. (03/29/2000) - Merlin Software Technologies Inc. yesterday unveiled a program called Option Source, which allows open-source software developers the option to release the code of their projects for a fee.

This payment-based model runs counter to what many open-source developers hold as steadfast: keeping source codes free and available to all, while developing for the altruistic joy of creating better software. Merlin Software is targeting Option Source toward those developers who are exceptions to that rule.

According to Merlin Software President Bob Heller, the driving force behind the program is based on two premises: there is money to be made on Linux, and code developers are not the ones making it.

"A lot of people are making money off open source and they are not the ones at the bottom of the heap," Heller said. "If (Linux OS vendors) Red Hat and Caldera are making money off it, why can't I?"

Heller said Option Source caters to those developers who come home from their day jobs and develop open source code into the night from their homes. Their code can now be cleaned up, packaged, and marketed open source through the new program.

When a project is accepted into Option Source, the code is joint copyrighted with the developer and Merlin Software so that both parties own copyright and intellectual property rights. It will then be released under the Merlin Option Source License.

Payment for projects will include a monetary budget and stock options in Merlin Software, a public company. The developer thus has more incentive to create a better product because that will better the company and increase the value of its stock, Heller said.

Option Source essentially takes an approach that morphs the structure of big-name Linux companies with something along the lines of, Heller said. The latter advertises pitches from companies looking for an open-source project and developers can write the code for money.

Heller claims that the problem with these models is that they fail to combine the business and artistic appeals to open source.

"Open-source development, for many developers like myself, is an art form," Heller said. "It's something that they do out of love in their basements when they get home from their paying jobs."

Heller says that many developers would love to make some money off the open-source code they develop for themselves but simply do not have the means.

Option Source is designed to meet that need.

However, his brother Garry Heller, chief information officer at Merlin Software, conceded that there are certain parties with ideologies that conflict with this way of thinking. Option Source is simply not for those people.

"We understand that this is a contentious issue," Garry Heller said. "We are only giving them the avenue; they don't have to take it."

Merlin Software Technologies Inc., in Altamonte Springs, Florida, is at

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