- by Tina Gasperson -
If KDE and GNOME are the Hatfield and McCoy of Open Source graphical desktop
environments, then theKompany.com and Ximian are not exactly kissing
cousins. But the philosophical beliefs of the two businesses are converging, and the community is settling down to a broader acceptance of commercial software.Assuming computer users choose their desktops before
they choose their desktop applications, ostensibly theKompany's and
Ximian's target markets are non-intersecting sets. But their business
practices and philosophies on Open Source have been scrutinized,
discussed and compared at length in public.
Critics abound on all sides
An unspoken rivalry seems to exist between the two businesses that
develop practical software applications, theKompany.com for KDE and
Ximian for GNOME. Critics of Ximian say it controls
GNOME and has sold out to Microsoft because of involvement with the
Mono project, which is working on an Open Source implementation of the
.Net development framework. Miguel de Icaza, the guy who started GNOME
and is one of the founders of Ximian (fka Helix Code), says critics need
to get involved. "Read the foundation reports as well as all the
announcements that happen there. Ximian is a contributor to GNOME, just
like many other individuals and companies."
And theKompany has been roundly criticized for marketing
proprietary applications, though company president Shawn Gordon says that the support outnumbers
the complaints, "especially with our new license model that provides the
source code to paying customers." Some KDE supporters are not happy with
what they say is theKompany's tendency to "re-baptize" KDE apps as
purely qt ones. Christian Lavoie, who describes himself as a KDE user, says qt, the underlying structure that KDE code is built upon, doesn't have as much functionality as KDE itself. He also dislikes theKompany's porting some KDE applications to Windows platforms. "In theKompany's case, they removed the KDE features -- in particular, KIO
slaves -- in exchange for a larger audience for their product, because it now runs on Windows."
Some people are irritated with both
Ximian and theKompany because of their perceived lack of
cooperation, which will force users to choose between KDE and GNOME
because many applications produced by these two companies will only run
The irony of it
Ximian recently announced it would begin selling a proprietary
extension to Evolution,
its free groupware suite. The extension, called Connector, allows
Evolution users to interoperate with Microsoft Exchange servers.
While selling proprietary software is a break in traditional
behavior for Ximian, (about which Miguel de Icaza said in an interview, "Helix Code is a company focused on making sure free software is viable
in today's world ..." and "in the end our objective is for GNU to be a full
solution to the user needs") the
announcement created at most a tiny ripple of debate in the
co-proprietor of Ximian, if the company expected to be criticized for
releasing proprietary software. "We expect less than we would have
expected awhile ago. I think that people understand that businesses have
to survive. And the people know that the bloody carcasses of Open Source
companies line the horizon right now," said Friedman in that report.
Beside that, the company states it has already contributed more
than two million lines of Open Source code to the community. Every
product Ximian offers, including Evolution 1.0, is released under the GPL,
and the source code is available on their public FTP server.
It is true that the lines of "acceptable behavior" for an Open Source company are blurrier now; the zealots are fewer and the practical Joes are multiplying. But a few purists remain.
Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, says
that Ximian used to be a Free Software company but now "waves the banner
of Open Source." He calls Ximian's leaders backsliders, and says that Ximian's press releases talk about the
usability and practicality of software, instead of focusing on
everyone's right to free code. Of Ximian's plans to release the
proprietary Connector, he says, "I think it's a terrible shame. However, the
GNOME project is still a GNU and Free Software project, even if Ximian
isn't a Free Software company."
John Perr, v.p. of marketing for Ximian, says "we remain very supportive of the philosophies of the Free Software Foundation. Ximian may not fit the definition of a Free Software company on paper, but in spirit we do." Perr hinted that perhaps the definition of a Free Software company is changing -- though some would say that because it's Stallman's game, he gets to make the rules.
theKompany, on the other hand, has been bringing proprietary products to
market since March of 2000; everyone already knows what RMS thinks of theKompany and KDE, and it's taken its share
of potshots from people in both the GNOME and KDE camps for being
"closed source" - a designation Gordon disputes because he allows licensees to modify the source code of theKompany apps as long as they do not redistribute those changes. Perhaps Gordon is simply being more blunt than Ximian dares to be when he says that most consumers aren't really interested in the
source code. "I think most people don't have a problem with
it because they aren't even going to do anything with the source code
anyway -- we've found that about 80% of the requests for source are
simply so they can build it on their own system and get around some
Gordon sees the quiet acceptance of Ximian's new proprietary arm not as a sign of changing mores, but as a
political thing. "Not to start anything worse, but it really reminds me
of watching the feminists supporting Clinton during all his myriad
affairs -- it just shows that ideology really isn't part of it, it's a
party loyalty and you aren't going to change your mind no matter what
that person does."
But Perr sees it differently. "We were concerned about the response we might get" to announcing the release of the proprietary extensions. "But the response has been quite positive. People feel like, 'if this helps Ximian to stay in business, and they contribute so much to the Open Source community, it's all to the good.'
"I think it's good for Free Software."
Gordon does it the old-fashioned way
Gordon started theKompany in August of 1999, before Helix Code was
around. He built a development team that to this day he's never met
face-to-face. "I was just looking for developers that fit my needs and
it turned out that they were spread all over the place. I've started to
have little enclaves of developers in Romania, Russia, Ukraine and
England." He realized that the telecommuting arrangement with his
employees would be a great money saver -- an important detail when
you're getting a company going without venture capital.
Gordon says he is famous for his frugality, and he's put that into
practice with theKompany, bootstrapping the company from the ground up
with no outside help, as he points out in a post to the KDE-promo list:
"We've not raised one outside dime of money at this point and I
think we've got a far bigger stable of products than Ximian for their $18
theKompany would have functioned much the same even if Gordon had
obtained venture capital. "I would have hired more people and gotten our
projects finished faster, and I probably would have brought a few people
to the U.S. on H1B visas, but we still would have kept it low key. I am
[frugal] no matter how much liquid capital I have available." Gordon
adds that theKompany's product objectives wouldn't have changed with
The result of keeping a tight rein on expenditures is a fast path to the
black side of the tape -- fast for Open Source businesses, anyway. "We are
very close to breaking even on a monthly basis from sales," says Gordon.
"We are negotiating several very large contracts, any one of which will
turn the tide. We're probably [three] months away from being in the
black." That's a few months behind Gordon's original projections, but
he says, "given the current economic climate, that's pretty damn good."
Ximian spokespeople had no comment when asked about profitability projections.