January 31, 2006 4:00 AM PST

'Free' is the new 'cheap' for software tools

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IBM sets DB2 database free

January 30, 2006

Pandora's box for open source

February 12, 2004
James Gosling, a vice president and fellow at Sun Microsystems, once quipped that the average software developer spends more on cafe lattes than on tools.

Two years after Gosling deadpanned that one-liner, software developers appear to have even more spare change to feed their caffeine habits.

Free entry-level products are rapidly become de rigueur in many areas of software, notably in programming tools where there are hundreds of thousands of freely available goods.


What's new:
IBM released a free version of its DB2 database on Monday, following similar moves by the other two major corporate database providers, Oracle and Microsoft.

Bottom line:
Viable open-source products are prompting established vendors to introduce free entry-level products, particularly in the field of programming tools.

More stories on this topic

On Monday, IBM introduced DB2 Express-C, a free database aimed squarely at software developers. It is a trimmed-down version of its commercial product, and IBM limits its deployment to two-processor servers.

Oracle and Microsoft also recently introduced free versions, joining a number of existing open-source databases, such as MySQL and PostgreSQL, that can be freely downloaded.

The moves by the big three corporate database providers--Oracle, IBM and Microsoft--reflect some of the changing economics of the software business, where freely available open-source products are forcing established vendors to adjust the way they do business, analysts and software industry executives said.

"Commercial vendors competing in areas where there are credible, free open-source alternatives are increasingly being pressured to lower the barriers to entry to their product," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk.

That's true for many programming-related software applications, including database servers--the underpinning of corporate applications that can fetch high prices, according to analysts and industry executives. But having a free item on a company's product list can makes good business sense, software company executives argue.

By releasing a free version of their database, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft are trying to lure developers away from open-source alternatives and toward their own products, executives said. In addition, these companies can potentially expand their base of customers.

"The open-source and free database-server providers have done the industry a service by demonstrating that there's a broad opportunity out there, among developers and solution providers that hadn't been taking advantage of a database server because of cost," said Bernie Spang, director of data servers at IBM.

Spang said that the free version of DB2 will foster growth of applications built on top of that database. IBM benefits when it sells higher-end versions. Also, a free product can entice third-party software companies or consultants to standardize application development on IBM's entire line of infrastructure software, including the database, application server and other components.

Developer mindshare

Analysts said that it's still unclear whether these free database versions from the three biggest providers will feed the companies' top line.

But IBM, Microsoft and Oracle need to have free offerings purely for defensive reasons, Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna said.

CONTINUED: $1 billion by 2008…
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I wanna downroding and It's free?
Posted by rariane (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Of course, they get people back to their...
currently free product and then snag em when they suddenly start charging for it again.
Posted by tech_junky (56 comments )
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Who has done that?
The "free" versions are usually resource limited or license limited (developer only) and remain that way.

They give away the free versions for small installs and developers, and charge for the "enterprise" or "commercial" versions.

How dare they want to make money...
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Link Flag
Growing or slowing???
"Forrester estimates that the open-source database market, which includes support, service and license revenue, was about $300,000 million last year and will grow to $1 billion by 2008."
Isn't $300,000 million = $300 billion and isn't that larger than $1 billion?
Posted by mlcntrprs (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Fix made on numbers
That was an error and it has been fixed. Forrester's numbers size the open source database market at $300 million in 2005.
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
The problem is...
These version are not just resource limited, but there are also lots of 'higher end' features that are not enabled in the developer versions (eg. high availability), which I think this is ok.

However, the problem I see is that the vendors have the right to arbitrarily change what exactly is free and what isn't. If I build small solution that relies on a certain feature set, and want to upgrade to a newer version of the dbms (to get some bug fixes for example), there is no guarantee that the features I have used will still be supported in the free version.
For example, lets say that IBM notices that non-core feature x is used by almost all developers in the free version, and they are not seeing revenue developing out of the 'free' developer base. Nothing prevents them from making an 'update w' or 'version y' which disables this feature, forcing users to either rewrite or upgrade. So much for free.
MS has already demonstrated signs of this when the changed the limitations in their move from MSDE to SQL Server Express. Granted the changes they made may impact many people, but there is no reason why they could not have.

I know you get what you pay for, but the 'free' closed-source database adoption will only work if you can trust the vendors...yeah right.
Posted by Cargill_Biff (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Vendor trust
I have more trust in IBM than M$ or Oracle these days. If anything, I think IBM will add features to the free version of DB2. M$ can shoot themselves in the foot over "lost" revenue all they want. All that will do is lose them potential buyers, and support in applications that could get them into some new and niche markets. Of course, M$ is all about the bottom line and vendor lock-in. There are now alternatives to SQL Server, so if you don't like what they're doing, switch and show them how much you appreciate it. :)
Posted by fireball74 (80 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft had a "free" database long before open source
Microsoft has had a couple of "free" database offerings from long before Open Source databases became a significant part of the picture. Access' JET database engine has been essentially free since the early 90s and SQL Server's MSDE has been available for free since 1998. SQL Server 2005 Express is just the latest incarnation of MSDE, with its characteristics tuned to better target the market. Certainly Open Source offerings influenced that tuning. Microsoft's success with MSDE, and the increased focus on this area with SQL Server 2005 Express, as much as the Open Source offerings, are what forced Oracle and IBM to come up with their own free databases.
Posted by hberenson (6 comments )
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I don't know about that....
What makes M$ JET "database" so unappealing is the lack of multi-platform support. To top that, Access is slow, and definatly not a SQL class database. Basically, you're comparing apples to kiwis. There's no competition to SQL from JET at all.

The SQL Server 2005 Express is too limited, but so is Oracle's "free" offerings too. IBM isn't limiting theirs near as much, which tells me they want the niche markets as well as better support for their platform in OSS projects. It's clear that neither M$, nor Oracle, really want to compete with the Opensource offerings. They just want to throw out a line to see if anyone bites so they can lock them in. Not gonna happen with this developer.
Posted by fireball74 (80 comments )
Link Flag
Lite Software isn't that effective...
It seems logical that by giving away "Lite" or "feature discounted" versions of the biggest database product brands will lure developers away from open source solutions (i.e. competition) and potentially expand the customer base.

However, in the real world, "lite" versions don't work that way. What happens in many cases is that the customer service group gets inundated with calls from frustrated developers trying to figure out how a certain feature would work IF they had the full product. Customer service calls cost money. (It would might be better if the first department to field "Lite" version software calls was the Sales dept. At least they'd be able to convert a percentage to the full version.)

In addition, the developer who elects to go Open Source does so because they are operating under a budget, or they haven't quite decided that the solution they are building will end up being the ideal solution over the long haul, or they just don't like dealing with The Man. They are usually evaluating more than one potential solution at a time, so working with fully-equipped solutions during evaluation results in a better final evaluation/recommendation.

I think that the big brands need to embrace the open source market and educate developers on all products available (not just their own). They should also provide developers who use open source a migration path to their products (and provide the tools to facilitate this).

Basically, the big brands should tell the developers - "Hey, we understand. Whether you try us now or open source now is fine. At the point where you determine that you really need the long term support infrastructure and guaranteed performance, call us. We'll still be here."
Posted by cagerattler (72 comments )
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