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OpenAvenue seeks to harness open-source power

The start-up hopes to be the middleman that connects companies in need of programming services to the vast pool of freelance talent available on the Internet

Another effort to harness the efforts of open source programmers is springing up on the Web.

OpenAvenue hopes to be the middleman that connects companies in need of programming services to the vast pool of freelance talent available on the Internet. OpenAvenue plans to make money by charging companies that want to "brand" open-source efforts and by charging companies for extra services such as testing software developed by open-source programmers, the company said.

StarBase, a company that sells software to let programmers collaborate over the Web, has a majority interest in OpenAvenue but plans to reduce its stake in coming months, said StarBase chief executive Bill Stow III.

OpenAvenue loosely resembles other efforts to compensate open-source programmers such as SourceXChange or the Free Software Bazaar. These efforts, along with moves such as Apache's incorporation and Red Hat's planned initial public offering, illustrate the growing push to capitalize on the open-source movement.

OpenAvenue will host open-source development efforts for free, said co-founder and chief technology officer Jayson Minard. OpenAvenue will charge companies that want to "sponsor" a particular effort, effectively branding an effort by buying advertising space on the site.

Minard said developers using OpenAvenue will be able to get paid through their work through a deal with Cosource, at which companies or people can offer a "bounty" to programmers who accomplish a specific job.

In open-source programming, anyone may see, share, modify, and redistribute the original programming instructions for a piece of software, but OpenAvenue encompasses more types of work. "The term open source is too narrowly defined to describe what we are doing," said Carlos Caballero, OpenAvenue general manager.

One example of OpenAvenue's work is in the case of shareware, where users who register software often get access to the source code, Minard said.

Another example might be a company that wants to open up only a limited section of its otherwise proprietary code, which wouldn't be possible using one of the most popular open-source licenses, Gnu's General Public License.

That approach means OpenAvenue could be a good way for Microsoft to open up parts of its Windows software, a possibility company executives have mentioned several times in recent months.

Possible partners
Although OpenAvenue won't announce partners until early August, one source reported that they could include Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat, and Inprise. Spokespeople for Oracle, Red Hat, and Inprise said they were not aware of interactions with OpenAvenue, and a spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment.

OpenAvenue also will host proprietary programming efforts as well as open source efforts, Stow said. For example, a company might want to use OpenAvenue to quickly open up a project to programmers worldwide instead of buying and setting up its own server. In this case, OpenAvenue resembles the "application service provider" type of business that rents out access to software so companies don't have to administer it themselves.

With the proprietary efforts, OpenAvenue also will offer its own programmers or contract programmers selected from a large list organized by area of expertise, said Rendell Swart of StarBase's investor relations group.

OpenAvenue has been offering free storage space since June 23 to anyone who needs a central location to coordinate open-source programming. The company planned a major update of its Web site today.

The company already has 60 small and medium-sized projects ready to go, Caballero said.

OpenAvenue has 10 employees and will hire a few more in the next month, Caballero said. According to its plan, the company will have 27 by year's end, he said.

"Taking a product out into open-source is really a form of outsourcing that magnifies the economics, possibilities, and user relationship during development," the company said on its Web site.

"You will come to us for the same reason you go to an ISP to manage your Internet connectivity, servers, Web sites and other e-assets. We manage the collective public and their collaborative efforts. We keep their contribution under control and manage the integration with your work," the company said.

However, OpenAvenue plans to distinguish itself by escaping into broader selection of programmers, the company said, embracing those using Microsoft's Visual Basic and Borland's Delphi, the company says on its Web site.

"We will bring more mainstream developers into open source by lowering the barrier of entry, allowing developers to work in projects with their tools and platforms of choice," the company said.

StarBase, located in Santa Ana, California, last week reported revenue of $2,162,000 and a net loss of $2,635,000, or 10 cents per share, for its quarter ending March 31. That compares to revenues of $778,000 and a net loss of $4,637,000, or 28 cents per share, for the same quarter the year before.