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A cloudy future for open-source applications

DimDim and Acquia have two new cloud offerings that promise to deliver customer value while funding the vendors' payroll.

The best open-source projects have little problem with adoption. Their problem, increasingly, centers on monetization of their popularity. From Drupal to MySQL to Audacity, sometimes the best things in life truly are free...which can be a problem. The solution, however, may be cloud computing.

I've articulated this before, but theory met reality this past week with announcements from DimDim, an open-source Web conferencing provider, and Acquia, the focal point for Drupal support and value-adding services. Both have interesting new cloud strategies that promise to deliver customer value while funding the vendors' payroll.

DimDim, as TechCrunch reports, recently launched DimDim Webinar, a hosted webinar service targeting small and medium-size businesses (SMBs). The service "is accompanied by a couple of helpful resources that guide organizers through the necessary steps to monetize and analyze the performance of their webinars," making it easy to set up and track the value of the webinars. This is just the sort of offering my own company (an SMB) would find useful.

Acquia, for its part, isn't really targeting its new Drupal Hosting to the SMB market, instead focusing on helping companies "scale [their] site[s] to millions of page views, and more if necessary." While small and midsize businesses will undoubtedly also sign up, Acquia's service promises to be a great way to minimize the IT investment required to successfully deploy Drupal-based websites.

In both cases, DimDim and Acquia are improving upon their open-source code offerings...by making the code somewhat irrelevant.

Some, like Gartner, warn that cloud computing threatens to undermine the appeal of open source. But this is only a problem if open-source communities fail to offer cloud-computing options, as SugarCRM has, options that also include source code in case the buyer ever wants off the cloud.

Recent data from the United Kingdom suggests that cloud computing promises to be a winner for Microsoft alternatives like Google Apps. There's no reason that open-source companies can't also benefit from this shift. Microsoft has billions of dollars in profits tied to its 'desktop' dominance. Open source does not.

Open-source companies should be leading the shift to cloud computing. Some, like Red Hat, clearly are, with Red Hat actively seeking to become the platform for cloud computing, just as it's the dominant Linux platform for Linux server-based computing in the enterprise.

Cloud computing is the fulfillment of much of the marketing behind open-source software, promising to shift value to services and away from software. DimDim and Acquia are two examples of open-source companies that "get it" and will marry the best of cloud computing with open source.

They're among the first. They won't be the last.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.