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Wednesday, 09 March 2011 18:26

'Open core' works for us: Jaspersoft chief


Jaspersoft, maker of the world's most widely used business intelligence software, is moving to expand its business relationships in Australia as it tries to consolidate its position ahead of the competition.

Towards that end, chief executive Brian Gentile (pic below) is down in Melbourne, and, together with Sydney-based ANZ channel sales manager Michael Woodham, is spreading the good word.

That necessarily includes a few media encounters and iTWire was at the other end this morning.

Given that Jaspersoft has a dozen customers with commercial subscriptions in Australia, there are no plans to open any branch office here as yet; Woodham is the lone employee but there are partners like Call Design, Loaded Technologies, Ingres and Naked Data who support Jaspersoft's offerings, according to Gentile.
Brian Gentile
Jaspersoft has five products: JasperReports, iReport, JasperReports Server, Jaspersoft OLAP and Jaspersoft ETL.

It competes against proprietary products like CrystalReports, Cognos, Oracle and MicroStrategy and has held its own since it was co-founded in 2003 by Romania-based Teodor Danciu (who developed JasperReports) and Italy-based Giulio Toffoli (who developed iReport), Gentile said.

The two technical co-founders operate from their own countries; Jaspersoft has its headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Frankfurt, Bangkok, Dublin and Paris. It is a relatively small outfit with about 150 employees globally, counting contract relationships, of whom a little more than a third are based in the US.

Jaspersoft is one of a growing number of companies that put their products under a mix of licensing that is not generally well regarded by the free software movement.

Gentile calls it the "open core" model; a usable base product is available under a licence approved by the Open Source Initiative, in this case, the AGPLv3, and any additional functionality is provided by commercial extensions that are always under a proprietary licence.

Once one buys an extension and installs it, the whole installation comes under a commercial licence; reverting back to the original setup without reinstallation would, Gentile says, depend on the degree of customisation that has been carried out.

The licence for the extensions needs to be renewed annually and the same applies to all the company's commercial products; they can be downloaded and the base system - which Gentile called the community version - can be used for as long as one wishes.

However, if one downloads the commercial version then there is a trial period after which the software gets disabled. One cannot try out an extension before buying, unless it was by special arrangement, Gentile said.

There are slightly more than 1000 commercial subscribers (who have bought the entire suite) worldwide; apart from this Gentile estimates that there are 160,000 production users in 180 countries. There have been 13 million downloads since the company opened its doors.

Asked what kind of additional features were available in the commercial versions, Gentile said, as an example, the commercial version of JasperReports Server included a metadata layer for building business reports which was not in the community version.

Another feature available in the commercial version was what Gentile called multi-tenancy - where one could install one instance and allow multiple organisations to use it. In short, something similar to any multi-user UNIX where users do not step on each others' toes.

Leading free software figures do not regard the open core model kindly. Back in 2009, prominent free software advocate Bradley Kuhn had this to say when he felt that "'Open Core' was a definable term and that behavior (sic) was a dangerous practice":

"Like most buzzwords, Open Core has no real agreed-upon meaning. I'm using it to describe a business model whereby some middleware-ish system is released by a single, for-profit entity copyright holder, who requires copyright-assigned changes back to the company, and that company sells proprietary add-ons and applications that use the framework," Kuhn wrote.

But Gentile, understandably, takes a different tack. "The open core model is a good way to build a real company," he says. "If you need to become a real company, you need to have software which you can charge for, not just services."

When I point to MySQL and ask if the business model of that company - now part by Oracle, after being first bought by Sun - resembles that of Jaspersoft, Gentile says MySQL tried to move to the model that his company uses.

He says that MySQL got into trouble because of trying to change from a services-oriented model to an open core model; Jaspersoft has been using the same business model from its inception.

Asked about the name "crippleware" being used to describe the wares of companies which use the open core model, Gentile says that may be true of some companies but not of Jaspersoft which provides a fully-featured community version that can be used for as long as one wants.

"We have hundreds of thousands of organisations achieving important work with our community versions," he added, pointing to the Human Genome Project's Wellcome Trust as an example. "They haven't paid us a dime and I'm thrilled to be part of that project which is such an incredibly powerful thing."

"Free software has no... there's great limitations to free software, right, free software is not going to change the world, it's going to change the lives of those who are technical enough to be involved with it," Gentile says. "The only way to make a big mark is to really have the ability for millions of people to be involved.

Gentile was somewhat lost for words when I pointed out that if Richard Stallman hadn't started the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation back in 1984, all the buzz about open source would never have come about.

"Look at the Linux model over the years where it's had to commercialise in order to become really successful," he responds. "You wouldn't see major banks running their business on free software, it had to commercialise in order to legitimise. and so the hybrid between commercial and free is the way to make a real impact.

"I'm always cautious of the religion between free and open source software. I think there's a place for both of them. I simply believe that in order to make a real impact in the commercial world you have to legitimise the software. And I don't think that free software is going to be as legitimate and credible as something with commercial support as well."

When I mention Apache and the BSDs as examples of free software that are widely used by some of the biggest companies, he replies: "If there were not commercial entities taking it (Apache) and extending it and Tomcat and so on, it wouldn't be nearly as successful, as prolific as it is today. You have lots of use of Apache by IBM and Red Hat and others who legitimise their approach."

Jaspersoft has had a good run of business, with its best growth years surprisingly being 2008 and 2009 despite the financial crisis in the US; 60 percent or so growth each year, Gentile says.

He puts this down to the low cost and robust nature of the software, adding that while initially the open source nature of Jaspersoft's products was a selling point, nowadays it is more the architecture of the products that capture the imagination of would-be customers.

Jaspersoft's other practice that is frowned upon by the free software community is its copyright licensing policy. Outside contributions are welcome to its community versions but the copyright for all such code has to be assigned to the company.

In reply to a question, Gentile said that once someone submitted code for inclusion, there was no chance of the company ever allowing the relicensing of that code under any other licence.

But he said there was an active community and contributions were received quite often, adding that members of the community around the Jaspersoft products did not seem to mind these terms.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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