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Industry veterans bet on open-source model

A former Microsoft executive and other tech bigwigs fund SourceLabs, an open-source start-up focused on maintenance and support.

A team of computer industry veterans, including a former Microsoft executive, are launching an open-source company that aims to be the Dell of the software industry.

The company, called SourceLabs, will provide certification, testing and ongoing support services for open-source software components. On Tuesday, the company announced that it has received $3.5 million in initial funding from Ignition Partners and Index Ventures.

The idea behind SourceLabs is that corporate customers need a reliable partner to procure and maintain open-source products, much as they rely on Dell to provide computing gear, said Brad Silverberg, lead investor at Ignition and a former Microsoft senior vice president who helped expand the software giant's Windows business. SourceLabs is the first open-source start-up he has been involved in.

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"The trend over the last couple of years, and if you project it forward, it's clear the value (in the software industry) is moving toward maintenance, testing, support and configuration," Silverberg said. "Customers can easily acquire the technology they want via a configurator, just like how they buy computers off the Dell Web site."

SourceLabs will distribute existing open-source software, including server software and enterprise applications, and provide associated services based on a subscription model, said co-founder Byron Sebastian, who recently worked at software infrastructure provider BEA Systems.

Other ex-BEA executives also are working with SourceLabs, including Will Pugh, the new company's chief architect, and Cornelius Willis, who is vice president of marketing and sales. Former BEA chief architect and technology guru Adam Bosworth, who is now working at Google as a vice president in engineering, is also an adviser.

SourceLabs' next moves are to launch a test program with customers and establish partnerships with companies such as open-source database provider MySQL, Sebastian said.

SourceLabs' business model of relying on services mirrors other commercial open-source companies like MySQL, tools company Zend Technologies and middleware provider JBoss. But rather than tie itself to a particular product, SourceLabs will seek to compile and sell services around a large package of open-source components.

The quality of open-source products is high because many developers can view the source code and spot bugs, Silverberg noted. That reliability is missing, though, when it comes to supporting services, he said.

"Today you have to mix and match components and have to put together a system yourself," he said. "The integration of the components is not dependable."

Large computing providers, notably IBM, Novell and Hewlett-Packard, have built large businesses around open-source software such as the Linux operating system. Many smaller companies are sprouting up as well, seeking to gain an advantage over the traditional software company model and break into new areas such as management.

SourceLabs' main point of differentiation will be its support and maintenance services, Sebastian said. He added that the company will participate in the open-source community by providing bug fixes and enhancements to open-source products.