PLM: Open Source vs. Free?

PLM: Open Source vs. Free?

I posted PLM and Open Source Licenses few days ago. The main trigger of this post was Google’s announcement about acceptance of all OSI licenses. However, as it sometimes happens blog post is just a trigger for another interesting discussion. Marc Lind of Aras and Yoann Maingon of Prodeos had very interesting debates about a potential role of Open Source in PLM and the role of OSS in Software industry. You can catch up on this discussion navigating your browser on the following link. There are few very interesting statements made by Marc and Yoann. You need to read it in full. However, below, my two favorite passages from this discussion:

MarcL: It has always been difficult to build a business in software and probably always will be. However, what open source does is make trying easier and less required up-front investment for the developer. Now, developers and entrepreneurs can build software products, Web sites, etc at any level of the stack without paying for the infrastructure. They can sell those applications without the customer having to buy a bunch of other products as well. OSS opens the door to leveraging much more than just code/free software, ideas are much more easily exchanged, inspiration comes faster, combining products to make full solutions is easier than ever before and more cost effective.

YoannM: I think the Sun and Dassault examples of delivering free software against commercial solution is a very important fact. Out of the software industry, that would be illegal. It’s a basic rule of capitalism used to regulate the market. If a competitor can prove that you sell a product with loss on purpose he can sue you. And i suppose it is more the case in the US than in Europe (Even if Europe made enormous progress on market regulation). The Aras case is not the same as you can prove that a Real profitable Business Model exist on this particular software.I think there should be real investigator making sure that no Open Source project is done by one company without a profitable Business Plan.

This conversation made me think more about PLM and Open Source. I’d like to come with the following conclusion. It is not only about OSS (Open Source Software).  There is a third party in the room – Free. So, I decided to put some thoughts towards structuring of this conversation.

Open Source Software (OSS)

For all newcomers in the Open Source story, my recommendation is to have a look on the history of Linux software. The best starting point is Linux Wikipedia article. The history of Linux creation will give you some idea about fundamental thoughts behind Open Source, community-based development and interest of developers to have a strong and open operation system that can be used for multiple applications. One of the important points is how OSS code evolves between different versions of Linux and predecessors. UNIX as a strong predecessor of Linux played a significant role in forming of Linux community and development practices. My interim conclusion here is very simple – a potentially wide non-competing community and strong foundation are two important factors that can help to forum a successful OSS project.

Free Model

The idea of Free is not new. Business invented a free model many years ago and used it successfully in various types of businesses. If you want to be up-to-speed with ideas of free, I’d recommend you to read a book FREE: The Future of Radical Price by Chris Anderson. I’m considering this book as a modern bible of Free model. The fundamental idea of free is to re-shape business model and create an option to provide part of your product or services for free. Without making it too complex, you can decide how to make you business more attractive by providing FREE products. Free is good and we love it! Nevertheless, I can see advantages and disadvantages of a free model in B2B. What it helps is to decrease a cost of customer acquisition. You can get customers for free. However, the correct – you’ll get users for free. Then, you need to convert your free users into customers who will pay you money. This is so called “convergence rate”.

What it means for PLM?

I can see few aspects of PLM that make it attractive in the context of OSS and Free models. PLM faced significant challenges when started to proliferate in implementation of the systems downstream from big OEMs like Boeing and Toyota to smaller companies. It caused by what I call “One Size Doesn’t Fit All” problems. Massive need for customization and long deployment activities created a perception of long ROI for PLM and complex implementation practices. In parallel to that, PLM deployments faced difficulties in spreading out to more people in an organization. I can see two main reasons – too complex UI and high cost of licenses. All these factors created a good basement for innovating in order to improve a situation. Aras’ business model innovation that removes up-front fees, as it was mentioned by Marc Lind, is one of the important drivers helps Aras Innovator to acquire new customers and get all people using PLM system in an organization. In addition, community effort allows to customers, partners and other interested parties to be involved into development solutions to answer on “one size doesn’t fit all” problems.

What is my conclusion? Both “free” and “open source” can create an interesting innovation trend and change today’s status quo. However, I don’t think it is a silver bullet. Businesses have a lot of concerns about “free model”, since everybody understands that, in the end, TCO is important. On the other side, free can make PLM systems widely adopted and not limit to organizations that can pay for PLM licenses. Open Source is a separate story. To have a broad community is one of the main questions to be answered to understand the potential viability of PLM Open Source. Just my thoughts… I’m looking to your comments, opinions and discussion.

Best, Oleg


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  • cheng zhang

    Great post! I totally agree with oleg: free/open source is not silver bullet. I think Aras should put more energy on their Aras community and encourge more company or 3rd party to contribute to Aras innovator platform, may be can follow App store to sell the application to some customers. I think SMB need some additional application, but unlike big company, they don’t have too much resource for customization.

  • Vladislav Skoupski

    Oleg, I think that Smarteam licenses in some configurations of CATIA packages (PLM Express for example) with free (or included in price 🙂 are sort of you second type (free software). Didn’t it? The customer gets Smarteam “4free” and can start deploy Smarteam… hmmm?

  • I agree with cheng. As SMBs don’t have much ressources, they are reluctant to use Open Source software as they imagine it needs some tech work to make it work. SMBs want working feature on your first meeting. They want to hear what the software can do but what it does.
    In this case, for Open Source software to get accepted in SMBS, they need a strong and collaborative community (as Oleg always said) to get more and more verticalised instance of the Open Source software.
    When you sell an Open Source software the smb reads: ok he sells me service, so at first it is free, but the software needs support, customizing, etc…
    That brings me to the diagram i’ve done ( ), where a software that doesn’t need customizing nor service has no reason to be Open Source, except if it has been developped by a company willing to have such tool with no existing offer on the market.

  • beyondplm

    Cheng, 100% agree. If 3rd parties need to gain values from sharing/selling solutions on top of Aras free platform it will be a turning point. However, it is hard for a company to develop solutions on a platform controlled by another company, even if it is free.. It means they can (potentially) shutdown you. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Vladislav, You are right and wrong at the same time. SmarTeam licenses were embedded into CATIA licenses. Pure marketing and packaging. Customer is paying anyway… Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Yoann, You are right! I see SMB more interested in ready-to-use configurable solutions. They don’t have many IT resources to spend (even on servers). Thanks for your comments, as usual. I’m looking on your diagram and thinking about some alternatives. Hope it will come later this week. Best, Oleg

  • MarcL

    This is a great discussion and an important one as well. I agree with most of the points made, however, there is one that is confusing to me. Seems to be agreement that SMBs need some PLM option, and that there is not a proprietary licensed option available today that they have resources/money for.

    Then, seem to point to oss with strong community as answer for SMBs to adopt (assume because it’s freely available and community will support and continue to advance)… only issue is there’s an almost overlooked requirement that the community developed PLM be OOTB, requiring little or no customizing and minimal support.

    As Yoann points out, correctly IMHO, oss is actually not the preferred approach to achieve those requirements. This is in part why Linux has grown to dominate the high end server market in the enterprise, yet is still trying to forge a real foothold into the mass market for consumer PCs (this is starting to change with Netbooks, mobile, etc because its being bundled and big companies are investing in custom UIs).

    OSS is PERFECT for Large Global Enterprises. They want control, they want flexibility, they have skills, they actively seek out the most advanced, robust, high performance solutions for their problems… and the business case is undeniably strong at scale.

    This is why at Aras we are focused on large companies. Because they recognize our superior technology and care about the advantages / benefits our format gives them over the expensive & restrictive system options they get from the other major PLM providers.

    This makes sense to us and we believe our approach is the “format of the future” for global enterprises, however, as was noted by Yoann, its not a silver bullet for everyone.

    What our approach does do for SMBs, is provide for the first time access to the same PLM solutions used by major companies at an affordable level (no license, but still must have skills or pay someone who does if you want to customize OOTB functionality, integrate other systems, etc). If you use it OOTB, then can have it installed and start using in less than an hour which is a huge benefit.


  • beyondplm

    Marc, thanks for this comment :).. It seems to me, you are trying “one size fits all”. You hope it will work because it is “free”. I have to say, this is a good argument if you compare it to other alternatives. I’ll try to include the rules you mentioned in my future sketch about Free PLM (coming hopefully tomorrow). Best, Oleg

  • MarcL

    Actually, that’s the whole point ‘one size does not fit all’… anyone who doesn’t fit is welcome to try the suit on, although may need a tailor 🙂

  • beyondplm

    I agree. The ability to “try it” for free (even if it is not really free) has some benefits. The FREE is fascinating, interesting and surprising. That’s why I recommended Chris Anderson’s book. -Oleg

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