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June 24, 2011
Do community contributions still matter for organizations whose main cash product is closed-source? Likewise, which has just open-sourced more of its formerly proprietary code, seems to think so. Here’s the scoop.
Likewise, which focuses on solutions for painlessly integrating Linux, OS/X and other Unix machines into Microsoft Active Directory environments, offers its software in two main flavors: Likewise Open, which is free and available under the GPL; and Likewise Enterprise, an enhanced, proprietary version of the Likewise tools that requires a license to run.
The company thus straddles the frontier between the open and closed software ecosystems — although it is heavily invested in the former, since much of its product is built on top of open source technologies.
The company’s commitment to the open source channel just got a little stronger, however, with the release of Likewise Open 6.1, (currently being offered as a “technology preview,” with a final release promised very soon), which includes new features that previously were available only in Likewise Enterprise.
Specifically, Likewise Open now boasts a Kerberos/NTLM JAAS login module and SPNEGO Kerberos/NTLM servlet filter. These enhancements add single sign-on support for a variety of major enterprise applications, including Apache Tomcat, IBM WebSphere, Oracle WebLogic and JBoss Application Server.
By shipping these tools as part of its open source package, Likewise has made it possible for third-party developers within the open source community to contribute feedback and bug fixes. It also draws a thicker line between itself and its main competitor, Centrify, which offers solutions similar to Likewise’s but which releases almost all of its products — even those that are available as free downloads — under a closed source license. (Centrify maintains enhanced versions of some popular open source tools, but its product line remains almost completely closed source.)
Without a doubt, Likewise’s decision to add these single sign on tools to Likewise Open reflects, in part, a desire to make itself more attractive to potential customers than Centrify, which currently charges for equivalent features.
Likewise’s move, however, is one to watch even if you’re not particularly interested in the narrow Active Directory market, because it also represents an attempt to deal with one of the central conundrums within the open source channel: finding an equilibrium between opening code and maintaining profitability.
If a company keeps all of its code open, it can become hard to be profitable, since there’s not much to sell if everything is available under the GPL. (One can sell value-added services, but Likewise has never been oriented in that direction.) On the other hand, by closing too much code, an organization denies itself the engagement, contributions and enthusiasm of the open source community.
Clearly, Likewise believes keeping code open will prove beneficial in the end. Whether that will prove to be the case remains to be seen. Either way, Likewise’s moves going forward — and any response they may elicit from Centrify — will be a key area to watch in months ahead.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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