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CA sweetens the open-source pot

Company set to announce $1 million contest to drive new Ingres r3 open-source database.

Computer Associates International is out to prove that even when it comes to free software, money talks.

The company is scheduled to announce on Wednesday a $1 million contest to promote usage of its Ingres r3 database, which it is releasing into an open-source project this week. CA will offer five prizes--topping out around $300,000 for the first-place winner--to developers who write the best tools for moving customers of rival databases over to Ingres.

In May, Computer Associates said it would release the source code of Ingres, a relational database with about 15,000 corporate customers. Ingres is available for free under the CA Trusted Open Source License.

CA said that the contest is aimed at rapidly increasing market acceptance of the Ingres database.

"The barrier to large-scale adoption is converting from existing proprietary databases. That's why we're offering this challenge--to accelerate the transition," said Mark Barrenechea, CA's executive vice president of product development.

As part of the "million-dollar challenge," Computer Associates is calling for programmers to build tools that convert applications and data stored on the leading commercial databases--Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Sybase and Informix--over to Ingres. The conversion programs must be open source and not owned by CA. Barrenechea intends to announce the winners at the company's user conference next year.

Computer Associates' contest underscores how open-source projects increasingly need to take novel approaches to attract developers, which are vital to driving adoption of a product.

"To be successful in open source, you need relevant technology and you need community," Barrenechea said.

Market researcher IDC said Computer Associates, which also sells mainframe-specific databases, garnered 0.4 percent of the relational and object database market in 2003 and that its share shrank 2 percent last year. CA, which bought Ingres in 1995, sells it as a stand-alone database and uses it as a data store for its other products.

The company is trying to assemble a "stack" of open-source software infrastructure products tuned to work with its existing commercial offerings. By using standards-based, open-source applications, customers can lower the cost of acquiring and maintaining CA products by 60 percent to 70 percent, Barrenechea said.

Computer Associates has entered a market in which there are already a number of open-source databases available, including MySQL, PostgreSQL and Sleepycat. IBM on Tuesday created an open-source project at the Apache Foundation around its Cloudscape Java database.