Whenever I see a press release that includes words such as monetize, world's largest and unique position I have to admit I get a sudden urge to reach for the delete key. However, on this occasion I decided to read on simple because it came from the direction of SourceForge.net and concerned the opportunity to monetize open source software. Not that I am 100% convinced that this is as close to the heart of the open source developer as some pundits believe. That said, if anyone can produce the necessary software alchemy then it has to be SourceForge.net, occupying as it does the lofty position of the world's largest web site for open source development and distribution.
The newly launched SourceForge.Net Marketplace promises to provide a familiar environment in which technology professionals can buy and sell support and service for open source software. Familiar because it follows an eBay-alike concept, with sellers being able to set their own pricing levels, determine their own support levels and define their own service types. To further add a little eBay sprinkle into the marketplace mix, there is also a reputation system which gives buyers and sellers the ability to rate the transaction after each and every sale. Interested buyers can even pay the seller by PayPal.
That's where the eBay analogy ends though, because listing services on SourceForge.net Marketplace does not actually carry a fee at all, at least not at the moment. With Beta testing having been ongoing since May 2007, the marketplace has launched with no less that 600 service listings up and running including the likes of OpenBravo, JasperSoft and Firebird.
So popularity looks like being assured, but is this really as big a move forward for the open source movement as its supporters and sponsors would have us believe? There is no doubting that the demand for open source software support will continue to grow as the genre gets an ever bigger foothold. There is no doubt that SourceForge, being the biggest and many would argue most transparent of the open source hubs, is well placed to bring developers and users together when it comes to packaged support. However, is packaged support really the way forward? Whatever happened to open source support of the free forum based variety, is that not more in keeping with the spirit of the movement?
"We're in a unique position to bring open source software and services together in a place people already trust, and with a model that is highly scaleable" said Mike Rudolph, vice president and general manager of SourceForge.net. "Our goal, as it has been from the start, is to help drive the adoption of open source software and enable success throughout the open source community."
Oh well, that's OK then. However, if you end up giving the end user the choice of buying commercial software with free support or free software with commercial support, the advantages of open source software could start to escape the grasp of the non-technical consumer who is just looking for the best value for money option.