With the meteoric rise of the mobile application market, could there be enough buzz over at the Apple App Store and at Amazon to share a little success with those of us longing for attention?
The mobile application market is taking off like wildfire, and it looks like developers are not only having fun but making tons of money as well—at $1.99 per download! The Apple App Store is so successful, the number of downloads is no longer measured in millions; it's gone into the billions—10 billion downloads, in fact, since the App Store opened in 2008, according to court documents filed by Apple recently in its trademark infringement suit against Amazon. No wonder Amazon and its similar-sounding Appstore for Android don't care about a little thing like a lawsuit; there's gold in them there hills.
Meanwhile, IBM i developers are wondering how to capitalize on this success and sweep a little bit of that gold dust over this direction. How come the IBM i platform can't have an app store too—one that specializes in open-source apps? Well, let's see…there are roughly 350,000 apps listed in the Apple App Store, and there are maybe two dozen IBM i open-source apps eagerly waiting to be downloaded. But hey, that's a start! Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams showed us that if you build it, they will come. Given things are still a little slow coming off this recession, it's not unfathomable to think a few people might have a little extra time on their hands to develop open-source apps for the i platform. And why not give them away for free! OK, maybe not free—how about $1.99 a download? Hey, customers are going to want training and consulting, aren't they?
I don't mean to sound flip because the new economy shows us that the more you give away, the more money you make, right? The only problem is that you don't know exactly when the second part of the equation is actually going to happen. Facebook is free, Yahoo! is free, Google is free, and they're all making tons of money, so we know the concept works at some level, right? I mean even IBM eventually had to start giving stuff away for free—like EGL Community Edition, IBM DB2 Express-C, IBM Lotus Symphony, IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition, and IBM WebSphere Application Server CE. And look how successful those products have been! Well…at least there have been a lot of Lotus Symphony downloads, and you can bundle pricey stuff with it—like computers.
The idea of building a community before you start selling into it I guess is what is behind all the giveaways. PHP is free, and Zend Technologies gives away a lot of free software, but you aren't getting Zend Studio for free—it's now nearly $300. Open-source Joomla! CMS is free, but you have to buy all the bolt-on applications to make it useful. MySQL was always free when it was maintained by Sun, but Oracle has this little nasty habit where they seem to like the money going in the other direction. Rational Open Access: RPG Edition should be free, but someone has to pay the salaries of those nice folks in Rochester.
I couldn't help but be most admirably impressed by the group of IBM i developers—including Aaron Bartell (Krengel Technology), Scott Klement (ScottKlement.com), and Pete Helgren (Value Added Software and a COMMON board member), among several others—who have been working out ideas in the developerWorks RPG Café forum for creating an IBM i open-source app store. The concept, of course, is to broaden the appeal of RPG and IBM i to a larger audience of developers and, hopefully, IT managers by making it more affordable to get started on the platform. I guess it's worth a try, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for 10 billion downloads—or a million, or even 100,000.
Perhaps if you build it, they will come, and we won't know until someone tries. As Bartell explained to the somewhat "seasoned" RPG developer and author Bob Cozzi, times are different today, and just because someone tried it years ago doesn't mean that it won't work today under different circumstances. Did the India-launched IBM Smart Market preintegrated solution download site ever really get off the ground? I haven't heard much about it recently. Marketing guru Tony Coppola, bless his heart, tried a similar thing with eportalXpress.com and preconfigured solutions about 10 years ago, but alas, there was not a rush to the cash register. Neither of these models involved open-source software mind you, and there have been several far-more-relevant examples of free downloads that Cozzi cited, which apparently resulted in a one-way street with some people doing all the work and others reaping all the benefit.
I did come across a rather encouraging announcement this week, however, from OpenERP S.A. This organization describes itself as an open-source business application suite vendor and has a business model that appears to be working. The software is free, but you pay a per-user membership fee to use it. Go figure. Anyway, it feels free, and at $49 per user per month, it's certainly affordable, given all the ERP modules you can download. It takes an 11-slide presentation to explain the business model, but essentially it boils down to this:
"The software can be downloaded for free, but we will never claim that deploying an ERP can be done for free. It requires services from OpenERP and our partners. In order to secure the right level of support to our customers, we offer online and onsite subscriptions. Online subscription is a monthly fee which allows our customers to use the software in a SaaS mode. Onsite subscription is an annual fee which provides bug fixing, security alerts, and migration services for customers who wish to deploy the software on their premise."
Note that the same ERP modules can be deployed either as a SaaS service or on-premise. This organization has offices in the U.S., Belgium, and India, and partner developers in more than 50 countries around the world. Part of the organization's revenues comes from annual fees that the partners pay to belong to the program. There are different marketing-related perks depending on how much business the partner drives to OpenERP. That sounds a little like IBM PartnerWorld, doesn't it?
Nevertheless, the list of modules is very impressive, from accounting to warehouse management, though who knows how sophisticated each one is. I guess the people who use them are happy. If not, since they're not paying any license fees anyway, they just stop using it as they aren't locked into a contract. Clearly, it is aimed at SMBs who otherwise couldn't afford a full-blown ERP installation. Since only 20 percent of today's companies have an ERP solution, OpenERP is claiming "thousands" of downloads so far.
Perhaps the open-source IBM i movement could employ an existing model like that of OpenERP rather than wrestle around and develop a new model entirely from scratch. In any case, I wouldn't recommend using the name App Store for anything related to the IBM i site where open-source software would reside and from which it could be downloaded. Apple already has shown it has a disagreeable legal department that just as likely as not will sue whoever tries to use the name App Store.
Since the IBM HTTP Server is based on the Apache HTTP Server, the most popular server on the Web, my idea for a name for the new open-source store is—the i Trading Post!
What? No, of course not—i stands for IBM i.
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