What Open Source Means to You

by David Robinson, Borland Developers Conference San Diego 2000

Introduction

Overview

When you first heard about the plans for InterBase being released as an open-source project were you excited or skeptical? If you were like me, you were probably wondering how InterBase could survive as an open-source product. This paper discusses how open-source works and how InterBase will be a viable product by continuing to provide very reliable software, excellent support and how this will reduce the cost of applications using InterBase.

Background

I work for Sage U.S. Holdings, Inc. as the Director of Development for the Carpe Diem product line. I first started using InterBase in 1995 when we were in the process of completely rewriting Carpe Diem using Delphi 1.0 (it was originally written using Turbo/Borland Pascal).

One of the main goals of the rewrite was to support multiple client/server database engines. We decided that we would support InterBase (even though we didn't know of anyone other than Delphi programmers using it at that time), Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Informix and Sybase. We also supported Paradox which, as you'll see shortly, is the reason we are InterBase VARs today. At that time we didn't really know much about InterBase, but after we installed the other database engines, we quickly discovered that it was the easiest to install and configure.

We shipped the client/server update for Carpe Diem in January 1997. As I mentioned, we supported Paradox as well the various client/server databases. We knew that Paradox was not something that should be used except for a relatively small number of users. We assumed that our customers would not use Paradox when they had a large number of users. Since most of our customers had 75 or more users, we didn't expect many of them to use Paradox. Unfortunately, we ended up having the majority of our customers use Paradox because it was FREE compared to the cost of installing a client/server database server and purchasing client licenses for all of their users. We had customers with over 100 concurrent users trying to use Paradox tables for their Carpe Diem database. This became a major problem for us because of how easy it is to corrupt Paradox tables.

We had to come up with a low cost alternative to Paradox so that we could get all of our customers who were using Paradox to switch to a true client/server database engine. We looked at several alternatives and decided to go with InterBase. In June 1997, we became InterBase VARs. We pre-paid for 5,555 licenses so we could get a great price on InterBase. This would allow us to sell InterBase to our customers at a bargain price. We have worked closely with InterBase since that time including participating in the InterBase VAR Advisory Council. We now have over 8,000 users using InterBase as the database for their Carpe Diem installation.

How Open-Source Works

What is Open-Source?

The Open Source Definition can be found at http://www.opensource.org/osd.html. The main qualifications for open-source software are that the product must have free redistribution, the source code must be available, and that modifications and derivative works must be allowed. Making the source code available on the Internet gives programmers the ability to read, redistribute and modify the source. The idea behind open-source is that this improves the product as bugs are fixed and enhancements are implemented. With numerous people contributing to the source, changes and updates to the software can happen much faster than possible with conventional software development processes. The quality of the software increases because significantly more programmers are reviewing the code.

Why Open-Source?

"The Business Case for Open Source" can be found at http://www.opensource.org/for-suits.html It states that open-source software has a much higher reliability than closed, proprietary software because it is peer-reviewed. Having more programmers working on a project is better, as long as the capacity for the project management or project core group isn't exceeded. Development speed increases and overhead decreases. Open-source brings the customer closer to the product, because the customer now contributes to the development of the product. The market for the product becomes broader because ports to other operating systems and environments can be done without extensive return-on-investment justifications.

This business case lists four business models for making money with open-source. The first one is to give away the software, but to sell distribution, branding and support services. This is the model that InterBase and other companies such as Red Hat use.

Other Information About Open-Source

Any Internet search engine. There is vast amounts of information about open-source on the Internet.

InterBase Open-Source

Note: This information was compiled prior to the anticipated open-source release of InterBase (June 30, 2000) so that it would be available on the Proceedings CD-ROM for the Borland Conference. The information regarding InterBase licensing might have changed since this paper was written. You should review the InterBase website for the latest information regarding InterBase licensing.

InterBase Public License

There are several variations of open-source licenses. InterBase chose to base their license on the Mozilla Public License (MPL 1.1). See http://www.mozilla.org for more information about MPL. The InterBase variant of this is called the InterBase Public License. See http://www.interbase.com/IPL.htmlfor the latest version. One of the reasons InterBase chose MPL was to allow vendors using InterBase to resell their applications without having to make their own application code open-source. The Gnu Public License (GPL) requires vendors to do this. This "viral" open-source license would not be received well by the large InterBase VAR community.

Continued Software Reliability

New Company

In my opinion, InterBase never received the appropriate attention and focus form Borland that it needed. The marketing needs for a database product and development tools are considerably different than Windows IDE tools. Starting an independent company allows the new company to focus solely on InterBase. With the background and history of the management team, there couldn't be any better-qualified people to manage the new company and the InterBase open-source project.

From the February 14, 2000, press release announcing the new company (http://www.borland.nl/about/press/2000/ibnewco.html):

"The executive team of the new company, called InterBase, will be led by Ann Harrison as president, Paul Beach as vice president of sales and marketing, and Jim Starkey, the founding architect of the original InterBase product, will serve as the technology software architectural advisor for InterBase.

As president, Ann Harrison is responsible for helping InterBase develop and implement a strategic plan for achieving substantial long-term growth in the open-source market. Harrison brings over 15 years of database experience to the new evolution of InterBase 6, and will be responsible for a wide array of technology and business initiatives for the company. With Jim Starkey and Don DePalma, she formed the original company that developed the innovative database architecture that became InterBase.

Prior to his appointment to VP of sales and marketing for InterBase, Paul Beach was the general manager at Borland for the InterBase product. Based in the United Kingdom, Beach was responsible for sales, marketing and business development activities for the product. During his tenure at Borland, Beach increased revenues of InterBase significantly."

One of my concerns about the new open-source structure of InterBase was whether or not they would maintain a R&D team. There will still be a core R&D group focused on the engine development. InterBase will host the source. Check in rights will be granted by Jim Starkey. InterBase developers (both employees of InterBase and contributors) will present their changes to Jim and a technical advisory board. The technical advisory board will approve the changes or suggest ways to rework them.

InterBase Reliability

InterBase has always been (at least since I've used it) a rock-solid, stable product. It is one of the most reliable software products that I have used. The reliability of InterBase can only get better when you consider the following:

  • A new independent company managing the product.
  • The history and background of the management team of the new company.
  • The original architect of InterBase working as an architectural advisor for the product.
  • The source code being released as open-source giving others the opportunity to fix bugs and improve the product.
  • As of the time of writing this paper, the beta for InterBase V6 is a very solid product.

Cost of InterBase Applications

If your application depends on or uses InterBase as the database engine, you no longer have to pay license fees for the database. The client and server software is free for any number of users, and there are no deployment royalty fees. Even unlimited user deployments on web servers have no license fee.

This should significantly reduce the cost of your application. As an InterBase VAR, the most exciting thing about InterBase becoming open-source is that we now have a rock-solid reliable database that is FREE! This also gives us other options and greater flexibility in how we can use InterBase as the database for our application.

For example: We have a mobile module of our product that allows remote users to use the product and synchronize their data with the network installation. We currently use Paradox tables for the remote databases (only because it is a stand-alone installation). This is something that is available to all of our customers. We could not use InterBase for this previously because it would have been cost prohibitive to pay license fees for all 150,000+ users. With the free distribution of InterBase, we can now use InterBase for the remote database even if our customers are using another database for their network installation. This will increase the reliability and stability of our remote product.

Since InterBase is now free, you should also be able to take advantage of the various support and service offerings.

Summary

You should have no reason to be concerned about using InterBase under the open-source model. In fact, with the open-source model, you should now have more reasons to use InterBase (especially since distribution of the product is now free). You can use InterBase for free with a stand-alone application, as an embedded database, for a client/server application, for an N-tier application, as the database behind a web application, or any other way that you can conceive of using a database. The new InterBase company is being managed by top people who have an extensive history and background with InterBase. With the open-source community contributions being overseen by the original owner and creator of InterBase, Jim Starkey, the product should continue to improve and grow. There is a wide range of support and services offerings available from InterBase. If you had any doubts about InterBase open-source, I hope that this paper has convinced you that InterBase will continue to be the great product that it has been in the past and that it should only get better under the open-source model.