Start-up looks to open source as business model

The Collaborative Software Initiative aims to save companies money by coordinating community projects.

The former CEO of the Open Source Development Labs has started a company offering private "open-source" services.

The Collaborative Software Initiative (CSI), headed by former OSDL chief Stuart Cohen, will match companies that are looking to pool resources as a way to decrease software costs and ensure standards compliance.

The Portland, Ore.-based company has received funding from OVP Venture Partners. Its advisory council members include IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Novell, which will also help the company with performance testing and benchmarking to make sure applications are optimized for certain server configurations, Cohen said.

Evan Bauer, the former chief technology officer of Credit Suisse First Boston, has partnered with Cohen as the CTO for the new initiative.

"Because of the success of Linux and open-source software and the work Evan and I have done in it, in IT it's the right time to do this," Cohen said.

CSI isn't something that's come out of the blue, Cohen said, but rather is being driven by industries like finance, insurance, government agencies and retailers that are interested in a collaborative model. "They need the services. They don't want to form a dot-org or a foundation," he said.

The company's model is not a far reach from what the OSDL did under Cohen's stewardship. OSDL, which recently merged with the Free Standards Group to form the Linux Foundation, was a nonprofit organization that worked on improving and establishing standards for Linux in high-end servers, telecommunications equipment and desktop computers. OSDL coordinated efforts among developers from multiple sources including large companies.

Similarly, CSI will hire and manage a core team of application developers to work on a single project for, say, a half-dozen companies that have a limited number of developers. The companies will each pay a percentage to cover the cost for developers and for CSI's management of the community project, which includes code development, testing and support.

"They will pay substantially lower or about half the price of what it would cost them on their own to outsource, maybe even less, because there's a shared cost," Cohen said.

CSI also will organize and manage developers from the participating companies or government agencies to work on a common goal as a community.

"In most cases, the core collaborators will include a trade association. In a number of these compliance areas, a trade association has done the work to define the product or problem, so they will be a part of the project to make sure we have written to the documentations they have put in place," Cohen said.

In addition, CSI will take care of licensing the software from community projects to other companies, through a hosted-software or open-source license, depending on the wishes of the collaborative companies involved.

"Our intention is to use commercially available and commercially accepted licenses, and there are certainly plenty of licenses out there that would meet our needs," Cohen said. "We are not locked into a particular one."

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