Programmer Web site Cosource was acquired today by software developer Applix, which will use its new partner to bolster its Linux office products.
The move comes amid a surge of interest, and competition, in all things Linux. The technology is a darling of investors at the moment, and has been responsible for several hot initial public offerings, including the record trading day for hardware maker VA Linux Systems last week.
Applix faces increasing competition for its office suite, called Applixware. Sun Microsystems has acquired Star Division and now gives the StarOffice suite away for free. Corel, meanwhile, has begun selling Linux itself and plans to sell its entire office suite alongside.
"Certainly there will be an opportunity for us to use Cosource to add value to...Applixware," said Richard Manly, director of marketing for the Applix Linux division.
Cosource went live last week, followed a day later by another site, SourceXchange. The sites are geared to make money by charging a fee for connecting open-source programmers to projects that companies need accomplished.
Bernie Thompson, founder and chief executive of Cosource, will stay on as leader of the Cosource group and now is in charge of the Applix Linux division, the companies said. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
In open-source programming, which is how the Linux operating system is developed, anyone may contribute to a collective programming effort. That's because the underlying programming instructions, called source code, are made public and can be used for free.
Some believe the open-source method, by harnessing a larger pool of talent, will transcend traditional proprietary programming strategies. Others, however, say open-source efforts are hampered by informality and the fact that programmers might not be interested in an important but dull project.
Linux is a Unix-like operating system collectively developed by Linus Torvalds and countless other programmers. While popular in servers, some companies believe Linux will compete in the desktop computers where Microsoft Windows currently prevails.
The acquisition is one of several that haven taken place in the increasingly business-oriented open-source realm. Red Hat, a seller of Linux that was the first of a series of hot Linux initial public offerings, bought programming toolmaker Cygnus Solutions. And Andover.Net used acquisitions of the Linux-oriented Slashdot and Freshmeat Web sites as the foundation of its own IPO.
Linux sales account for the most shipments of Applixware today, and next year also will become the biggest revenue source at the company, Manly said. The product costs $99, a price that will remain unchanged for the next version, 5.0, due to ship by the end of January, he said.
Applix and Corel stock took a hit when Sun announced its StarOffice plan, and Manly acknowledges the competition from Sun and Corel. But he argues that Applixware is a better product because it was designed for Unix from the start. Corel's WordPerfect software originally came from Windows and Sun's StarOffice came from IBM's OS/2 operating system, he said.
"We've been competing with [Star Division] for a number of years. We've always beat them...based on our products' speed and stability," he said.
Applixware is available for Windows and several versions of Unix, including Linux, Sun's Solaris, IBM's AIX, Compaq's Tru64 Unix, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, SGI's Irix, and FreeBSD. The company will begin selling the word processor and spreadsheet components as stand-alone software with the next version, he said.
In March, Applix released into the open-source world its Shelf software, a foundation into which the Applixware program modules such as the word processor can be plugged. Though people have developed Applixware add-ons for their own use since that time, nobody has come forward to offer software that could be integrated into Applixware overall, Manly said.
Using Cosource could change that, he said. "We may provide some [funding] on Cosource to encourage open-source" efforts that will improve Applixware, he said.
Applix is exploring the possibility of opening the source of some parts of Applixware, he said, though the company doesn't presently have plans to open-source the whole suite.
One part that will become open-source is the email module, he said. The current email software in Applixware is proprietary, but the company is working on a version based on the open-source Pine software. Applix is adding a graphical layer on top of the pine, he said.
"When we release that product, it will be both part of Applixware and available fully as open source independent of Applixware," he said. The new module probably will replace the existing email software, he said.