Rationale for the ACE+TAO Commercial Support Model

As ACE+TAO have matured over the years, a number of companies around the world began to support it commercially. This document describes why it's important for open-source projects like ACE+TAO to be associated with companies that provide commercial support.

Pros and Cons of University R&D Open-Source Projects

As we all know, ACE+TAO have emerged from a university-based R&D environment. This has many great benefits for the open-source software community since

All of these factors have contributed to the success of ACE+TAO, which are both doing quite well and have gained a great deal of acceptance in both adademia and industry.

There are also some key challenges that must be overcome, however, in order to produce open-source software that will remain viable over the long-term. One of the most important of these is understanding the reward structure in a university. Historically, faculty at research universities (such as Washington University and UC Irvine) have been rewarded for the following activities:

You'll note that "creating great software framework, tool, and pattern artifacts" has not historically been rewarded in most research universities. However, one of the fundamentally important changes that we've helped to shepherd over the past 5 years, is to change the reward structure at many universities so that it also rewards having an "impact", which can be interpreted by tenure committees to mean "creating great software framework, tool, and pattern artifacts", publishing papers in top journals and conferences about these artifacts, and obtaining lots of external funding in order to keep the whole R&D organization afloat. Here again, we've been very fortunate that our many sponsors have had the vision and motivation to support our R&D efforts on ACE+TAO. Likewise, I've been fortunate to find a cadre of very bright and hard working students and staff who have been motivated to bring my vision of great open-source middleware to fruition.

"So what's the challenge then?", you may ask. Well, there are several key challenges.

Thus, you cannot continue to be a "member in good standing" in this community if you don't keep focusing on advanced *research* topics. The penalties for not meeting these expectations are harsh, i.e., funding disappears, papers are rejected, grad students no longer apply, and eventually the projects die out. The history of university systems software R&D is littered with projects that ended up like this.

Of course, there have also been many success university-based projects, as well, such as BSD UNIX, TCP/IP, X-windows, many parts of the GNU project, and lots of Web-related technology (such as Mosaic and the WWW itself). My goal is for ACE+TAO to follow this path, rather than to die out over time due to an inability to sustain itself solely within the context of the university reward system.

Why Open-Source Projects Need Commercial Support

Given the context above, I realized many years ago that for ACE+TAO to succeed over the long-run, it was essential for there to be a gradual transition away from university-based R&D to a commercially-viable business model. If you examine successful university-based projects I listed above, you'll note that all of them have evolved from a university-based reward system to a more commercially-based reward system, i.e., there are commercial companies that provide a wide range of services and support for these products. I believe this is all healthy and good since the success of these products provides credibility for other projects, such as ACE+TAO, emanating from a university-based environment where open-source efforts thrive.

It is also clear to me that there is not just one open-source community, but several, each with their own needs and cost drivers. The difference, as I see it, boils down to "means" vs. "ends", i.e., some members of our community view open-source as a means to an end (i.e., as a facilitator to a business model), whereas others view it as an end in itself (i.e., as a way of fundamentally improving software development). Neither view is "right" or "wrong", and in fact, I believe that both views must co-exist in order for open-source to florish. Below, I tease out some of the issues with each group of constituents.

Reconciling Conflicting Forces

So, what can we do to reconcile the different needs of different segments of the open-source community? Here are several suggestions:

My ultimate goal is to see ACE+TAO firmly established in the pantheon of wildly successful open-source software projects. Therefore, I think it's essential that we collectively devise a technology transfer process that ensures ACE+TAO succeed not just for today, but for many years to come.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to respond to either me or the mailing lists.



Back to Douglas C. Schmidt's home page.

Last modified 18:06:18 CST 25 January 2019