Tim Bray is director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, but is perhaps best known as a co-inventor of XML. He also has launched one of the first public Web search engines, Open Text Index, and founded Antarctica Systems, specializing in visualization-based business analytics. Additionally, Bray publishes a blog and co-chairs the IETF AtomPub (Atom Publishing Format and Publishing Protocol) Working Group, which is focused on technologies for editing Web resources such as blogs and wikis. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill spoke with Bray at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco last week about topics ranging from open source and blogs to document formats and, of course, XML.
InfoWorld: With the Open Source Business Conference happening here, how do you leverage open source and be profitable with it?
Bray: Well, the notion is that the different kinds of business models you have around software are not specifically a function of whether it’s open source or closed source. I think even if you wanted to do traditional capital cost software licensing, the kind of thing that Oracle still makes a living on, there’s no reason in principle you couldn’t do that and still have the product [be] open source and anybody could download it and compile themselves. [We did an announcement about] Project Red October. All the software products are freely downloadable and freely usable, but unless you license them, whether that be by capital cost or subscription, you get no indemnity, no support, no nothing. I don’t actually see any tension between open source and making money. Open source is a good characteristic for software in general to have. It seems like we’re all beginning to agree, and our plans for making money from software do include open source by and large.
InfoWorld: The gentleman from Microsoft this morning basically said he didn’t think the model of selling tech support calls is going to be sustainable. Can you make money just selling support without taking any money for the software itself?
Bray: Well, we think so. Yes. Absolutely.
InfoWorld: How long have you been doing that and how has that worked out so far?
Bray: Oh gosh, I’m not on the business side of the software organization. I just don’t have a good clean answer for that one. But I will say that the historical model of trying to make your money by software [rights] to use licensing costs, I really do think that’s going to become increasingly unsustainable. Trying to cause people to pay money for something that is duplicated and the cost is zero, is at some level profoundly unnatural. And another issue that has always bothered me as a person who’s been not just a technologist but a business executive, software licensing tends to produce some profoundly bad accounting. You know, trying to treat expenditure for software as a capital cost which you then depreciate gets you even further than one normally goes into their own accounting science fiction. In fact, software is a piece of business infrastructure that you have to have there to work on a day-to-day basis, and I would think should be expensed in a rational way. And I think that was also the main thrust of ["IT Doesn't Matter" author] Nick Carr’s speech today, about this notion of building your own capital cost IT infrastructure, as opposed to getting it like electricity on a subscription basis, is it probably doesn’t have legs for the long haul.