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Computer Associates readies open-source push

The software company will announce a financial and development commitment to open source at its user conference later this month.

Computer Associates International is looking to the open-source community for help in building its next wave of management software.

The company will announce at its CA World user conference later this month a financial and development commitment to open source, said Mark Barrenechea, senior vice president of product development.

"Open source is here to stay. We want to encourage innovation and we want to be able to leverage some of the components that are out there," he said. "We will be supporting a couple of open-source activities at a very large scale level, both financially and through packaging (with CA's products)."

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Barrenechea, a former Oracle executive who joined Computer Associates last summer, wouldn't elaborate on the size of the company's financial investment or its particular focus in open source. But he said open-source code will play a role in the company's product development plans, especially in the area of systems management software.

The company may be hoping that announcements planned for CA World will help to deflect attention from its recent financial setbacks and management shakeup. Last month, Sanjay Kumar stepped down as the company's chief executive after a two-year investigation into the company's accounting practices. CA later restated more than $2 billion in revenue from previous years.

Computer Associates is among a growing number of commercial software companies tapping into the open-source community's developer base. IBM has invested millions of dollars in the Linux operating system and its Eclipse open-source development tool project. Sun Microsystems has embraced the open-source model through its and NetBeans projects. Novell has embraced open source through its acquisition of SuSe. Even Microsoft has borrowed concepts from the open-source world to improve its developer relations programs and its Shared Source Initiative.

One big reason for the trend is cost: Companies can offset some of their internal development expenses, and augment their research and development efforts, by using code and concepts already available in the open-source world. "Open source has come out of the experimental stage to be a major force in our industry. There are almost 1 million contributors to open source today," Barrenechea noted. "There is an enormous amount of intellectual capability at the grass-roots level--we want to encourage innovation and we want to be able to leverage it."

The company's move is "certainly another data point that confirms the importance of open source, and how the model can have substantial benefits for commercial software organizations, and vice versa," said Steve O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk. "More commercial enterprises are realizing that the open-source model at this point is more than hopping on the bandwagon or riding open source's coattails--there are tangible, strategic benefits to be realized."

Computer Associates clearly sees an investment in open source as a way to bolster its efforts in research and development. The company has spent roughly $2 billion on R&D over the past three years. Microsoft, the largest software maker and increasingly a competitor to CA in the software management area, will spend about $6 billion this year alone on research.

"How do you go up against the titan? The barriers to entry are high, the cost of entry is high," Barrenechea said. "The only way to compete against that kind of existing technology is via a grass-roots movement. If you have got a million contributors to doing something semi-orchestrated, you can revolt, and Linux is a perfect example of that."

Also at the CA World show--May 23-27 in Las Vegas--the company plans to lay out its plans for integrating its management tools and will announce additional products that will be offered to customers in a utility computing model, Barrenechea said.