Open Source PLM a Real Option

The Open Source Option

Gone are the days when people simply accept conventional wisdom that mandated companies use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software, because those companies couldn’t risk an open source solution.  Excuses such as available resources, regular releases, stable software, etc., just don’t cut it any longer.

An open source vendor I happen to fancy, Aras Corporation, once had to decide whether to continue down the COTS path or dare to be different and go open source.  Eric Lai from Computerworld Daily describes in an article (Aras still happy with decision to open source its PLM software on Windows) the very real business decision and the favorable outcome of moving to an open source model.

Business cannot improve operational efficiency by ERP alone and it certainly won’t achieve that end by simply managing metadata and CAD files.  That said, PLM software that can deliver regulatory compliance, process control, BOM management, and a bridge to ERP.  This combination of critical functionality, offered via an open source model, may one day rule the world as a business game changer.

More and more I think people have become savvy enough to think bigger and accept alternative solutions, and I also think that solution providers, like Razorleaf, realize they have a lot of knowledge and expertise regarding PLM processes and implementations that can be generalized and applied to any piece of software. It’s only a matter of learning a different tool, like Internet Explorer is to Firefox, or perhaps as Microsoft Windows is to Linux.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 at 5:00 am and is filed under Business Process Improvement, Product Lifecycle Management, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, Systems Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
  • Michael, OSS is one of the two biggest opportunities we have in PLM these days. Second is SaaS. You can see my thoughts about it

    Best regards, Oleg

  • michael.craffey

    Oleg – thanks for your comments and the links. Great articles to really think about. I think about how PLM will be different in the future, quite often.

  • Perhaps this should be titled: “Real Open Source a (Future) PLM Option”
    I seriously doubt Aras would agree with you that their core PLM product — i.e., the Innovator software that every user must install — is open source. You need only skim the Aras download license to realise that Innovator is an unapologetically closed application.
    Indeed, Aras PLM is not significantly different from Microsoft Excel: a proprietary engine that can, if you wish, execute sharable application-specific models. Like Excel, you can’t run any of those models without the closed application, nor do you need any of the community contributions to create an Aras PLM system. You can’t even get security updates or service packs for Innovator without a paid support subscription. Fair enough, but is this what OS means to you?
    Granted, Aras have provided a nice mechanism to share their models. However, since the community models are based on web standards published in plain text, the files are already as accessible as any web page. Labeling an XML file as “source code” and then applying the Ms-PL license simply muddies the water. Aside from the marketing angle, how are these files qualitatively different from a common forum post that waives the poster’s IP right?
    Aras themselves seem less colourful and more circumspect in their marketing: contrary what many perceive as their differentiator, “OS” is nowhere mentioned on the download page.
    I submit that any characterisation of Aras Innovator shouldn’t stretch the definition of “open source” beyond recognition.

  • Leo

    agree with ChrisD. Aras is on the way, but far to be Redhat.

  • michael.craffey

    Thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. You certainly make some valid points about the flavors of open source and how they relate to open source PLM. I can agree that for many people, open source connotes more than “free to download and use.” And as you pointed out, Aras makes no bones about the fact that Innovator is a pre-configured solution whose source code is not available.

    But I might make the argument that many small-medium corporations don’t need, or cannot take advantage of, true open source applications because it would require additional resources, more knowledgeable resources, or both. I think the value proposition of Aras is in its packaging and licensing model because it is clearly different from OEM (direct, channel sold, or SaaS) PLM software. I understand that calling it “open source” seems a bit misleading, but I can’t think of a better label for it, so long as Aras (and others) are quick to point out that they offer a specific style of open source (called enterprise open source), I still think it is a fair use of the term.

    Given all of that, I am not an expert in the open source community. Is there a better term that Aras could be using to describe what they offer?

  • G.JY

    we have done 4+ months research work on Aras, and think it’s far away from Open source. yes, it’s free for installer and license, but cannot be used as production system. it’s high risk because its service packs is not for free. not only for SP, no free data loading tools, clear API manual, upgrading tools. you can see it as a game to learn some different idea about designing plm system, but take seriously if you want build up your own plm system on this unless you are willing to purchase their subscription services. otherwise, you may find that you want to do some customization on aras innovator, and you find the correct API, but you don’t how to use it because the api manual has not give you enough information. Aras put all these kinds of stuffs into their subscription services. if you buy it, you can ask them for some sample codes about this api. but as we checked, the subscription service is not cheap. if you continuously buy 5 years, the total cost you paid could buy any top plm solutions. that means actually, teamcenter is cheaper than this so called OS solutions.

    i completely agree on ChrisD’s comments.

  • G.JY,

    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to communicate your opinion of the Aras solution.

    Being new to open source, I am not an expert on the subject, but it is clear that the Aras licensing model is different from other PLM vendors on the market, and open source seems like a reasonable way to describe their approach (although I wouldn’t argue that the Aras “Enterprise Open Source” is not the same as what some people call “true open source”).

    On the subject of cost, the Aras subscription fee seems only marginally different from the annual maintenance fees charged by the big players in PLM (Dassault, PTC and Siemens). Of course, that also depends on what level of subscription you buy and the size of your organization. One of the significant differences is in the fact that there is no initial license charge with Aras (and it seems like that makes the solution less costly over time).

    I’ve been in the PLM business for quite a while now, and unfortunately, I have yet to see perfect documentation (of APIs or much of anything else, for that matter). It seems like the proof point you’re interested in would be whether Aras takes your documentation improvement suggestions and shares those with the community (following the principles of open source). I’d be interested to hear your experiences in doing this with them.

    As for missing/immature supporting tools, I think that is natural in the evolution of any young software product. It doesn’t stop me from wanting improvements either, but given the “long view” that is necessary when dealing with enterprise systems, I think we have to be patient and wait for the vendor to evolve these over time, while creating our own workarounds and customizations to meet immediate needs.

    Again, thank you for the feedback,


  • Figured would chime in here for clarification sake. Seems like there are some misconceptions about open source, particularly commercial open source / enterprise open source.

    Would probably be helpful to address ‘openness’ up front. There are a wide variety of different structures that companies are utilizing to commercialize open source for the enterprise, providing the confidence and essential capabilities for a system to run in mission-critical operation.

    As opposed to tossing a blob of code onto SourceForge, at Aras we open sourced the enterprise PLM solutions for configuration management, engineering change, quality compliance, as well as, NPDI, supplier management, and many others – this is similar to the structure for the open source Lotus Notes solution projects at OpenNTF (which are undeniably open source).

    We use an OSI approved license for those open source solution projects, the Ms-PL which provides the ability to freely use, modify, and redistribute the source without a contribution requirement – it’s entirely corporate discretion what to contribute and what to hold back.

    Open source takes many forms and there are a lot of differences of opinion on what ‘real’ open source is and is not. I think that Matt Asay did a particularly good job of characterizing these in a simple way in his post ‘Fitting the optimal level of openness to your business strategy’

    Companies like MySQL were criticized as not being ‘true’ open source when they blazed the trail using dual licensing. SugarCRM and Jaspersoft have been berated for their commercial open source structures. At Aras we recognize that people will always have differing opinions and we believe the resulting discussion is healthy.

    People’s points about production system risk because “service packs is not for free” overlook the fact that Aras is no different than any other major enterprise system in this respect. Very few corporate IT groups would run a global deployment of Windchill or Teamcenter without maintenance. The difference is that with Aras, the subscription is optional, whereas, with other providers your company is forced to pay up-front and on an ongoing basis.

    That leads to the whole series of advantages that the Aras enterprise open source format provide; Freedom from licensing (eliminating capex expenses and incremental per user costs) and open solutions (ability to modify, enhance, extend, and share solutions) all without sacrificing the enterprise-class support and services that IT executives demand for confidence.

    Our opinion is that the enterprise open source approach is superior to the legacy way of selling licenses. As such, we also believe that while we may be the first to offer PLM this way, we won’t be the last. Other companies will introduce different PLM solutions using alternate open source business models and technologies in the future.

    The days of struggling with Windchill and Teamcenter while paying through the nose are numbered… The end result is better enterprise PLM software solutions for companies all over the world.


  • EdA

    @Mike: “…calling it ‘open source’ seems a bit misleading, but I can’t think of a better label for it…” The traditional name for over two decades has been “shareware”: use it as-is if the free download suits you, opt-in to pay if you need the security updates & service packs. Hint: For PLM, you’ll need the security updates & service packs.

    @Marc: Aras’ attitude towards open source PLM software is perfectly reflected in how you view your alternatives: by either keeping Innovator closed source or “tossing a blob of code onto SourceForge”. I can’t imagine such a broadly dismissive statement of OSS, SourceForge and his own code coming from a true open source advocate.

    Aras heavily promotes open source software (OSS) as advantageous to everyone – and especially to their own contributors – but somehow concludes that these advantages are irrelevant to their own Innovator framework. This is a great gig if you can keep it, leveraging the “open source” cachet while keeping the community’s only essential component safely in your own pocket.

    Marc cleanly demolishes his own argument by citing a blog by Matt Asay as an independent authority for defining the Aras business model as open source.

    First, the chart developed by Asay obviously equates “open code” with “open core”. The “Openness of Code” axis confirms that the “Closed core/Open complement” approach adopted by Aras is just as closed as “Closed core/Closed complement”. I’m not sure how this chart proves Marc’s point, but I agree that closed core = closed code.

    Second, Asay’s article refers to a separate blog by Michael Dehaan, whom Asay offers as an OSS authority.

    Dehaan explicitly refutes the exact business model Aras claims as open source: “A proper OSS model where everyone works for you and you’re not sharing everything isn’t truly open… it’s a house with windows, with the community all on the outside looking in. … [It] has no ‘network multiplier’ or ‘butterfly effect’ attached to it.” ( Again, it seems Marc’s own references contradict his argument.

    A closed-source framework with a community of contributors is a legitimate and well-proven revenue model. For example, Windows becomes ever more valuable (especially to Microsoft) with contributions from OSS, shareware and freeware providers, as well as the larger software industry. One cannot fault Aras for pursuing this approach.

    But Aras claiming that their PLM software is “open source” is like Microsoft claiming that Windows is “open source”: it’s a silly statement, confuses and ultimately annoys potential users, and will dilute the efforts of anyone who might want to promote real open source PLM software.

    Kind regards, Ed.

  • Seems there is a bit of religious fervor over “true” open source. Just to set the record straight, what we at Aras are doing is about enterprise open source, providing open solutions “for business, by business”.

    This seems to be part of the rub. The ideological perspective of deeming who is “pure & true” and arguing about approach does not, I submit, serve the corporate community – the people that actually have to rely on the system.

    Companies want openness that they can trust in mission-critical operation. What we hear when talking to IT executives is three-fold:
    * Must absolutely, above all else, have confidence in security and stability of system
    * Need to be able to customize easily, extend readily, integrate quickly
    * Want to escape the proprietary license schemes where the vendor forces cost, complexity, and risk onto the customer, takes the money and then demands for more

    Our format serves all 3 of these demands completely; providing security, open flexibility, and elimination of PLM license fees.

    Aras is a business that prides itself on delivering high quality enterprise open source PLM solutions for global companies. Will leave religion to others to debate.


  • AbbertL

    Essentially what Aras has done here is to abuse the commons by calling what is closed, open, and claiming superior flexibility when it’s a closed box system with no ability to modify it’s core functionality. It’s all built on proprietary MS SQL and MS Server software, with no option to run Linux Servers, PostgresSQL, Apache, Tomcat and the like, or any other ‘open’ anything. You can’t even use a Mac or Linux client because it’s so infected with broken ActiveX it won’t run on anything but IE6 and IE7 (yes, it won’t even run on IE8 and they’re a Microsoft ‘gold’ partner). So for all your ‘paid’ support glory, IE8 has been out for months and months and there’s still no support for it. I’d take a good hard look at what you’re actually getting out of your ‘open’ software that won’t run on anything open nor will it talk to anything open. It’s like trying to call MS Dynamics Open Source because you can write modules for it. Just because you can add your own plugins doesn’t mean it’s open source, just means you can expand the functionality a bit. You still can’t change the core behavior or make it run on anything but a commercial closed source, expensive, and otherwise typically insecure and less reliable OS / software stack.

  • AbbertL

    I’d wager that if this was truely an open source product IE8 support would already work, as well as Firefox and a whole host of other ways of accessing it. Try and find an opensource application on SourceForge that only runs on IE and hasn’t died a horrible horrible death already…

  • Can appreciate the most recent comment. While IE8 support is part of a service pack done by Aras for paid subscribers there is nothing that restricts a community project from doing the same type of enablement. In fact, we encourage this type of collaborative development and contribution so that non-paying companies/organizations can freely take advantage of ‘as-is’ open source options.

    As a business, we are working similar to Red Hat in that we package and certify the software for paid subscribers which enables us to provide the associated hotline support, bug fixes, updates, etc. that enterprises require. We are making both freely available oss contributions and subscriber only updates. The paid subscribers do set our employees’ priorities though (because they pay their salaries 🙂

    A non-certified, free open source option for IE8 sounds like something people might want to work on or post on the forums to see if others are working on it.


  • Keith Pease

    I would just like to make a simple comment re the “Open Source” status of Aras Innovator.

    An application is “Open Source” if it makes its source code, (that is all of the source code), freely available to the wider community of developers: If it does’t, It isn’t.

    All this dicussion of degress and flavours of Open Source is simply part of the smoke screen that Microsoft biased companys use to try to dilute and confuse the concept.

    Like so much in the area of software the propery of “Open Source” is binary. An application is Open Source or it is not.

    Aras do not make the Invovator source code available so it is not Open Source, in any way shape form or decree.


  • Keith – thanks for your comments. I can appreciate the feelings of several people commenting on this post regarding the “true” definition of open source.

    From my perspective, there is real business value in almost all of the forms of open source out there today though. Regardless of who uses which terms to describe their business model or how close a company’s model is to “true” open source, the ideas behind open source seem to be what are important (again, IMO). I like the idea that someone can freely use a piece of software, and in some aspect change it and share it with others for the benefit of the community. This makes Aras very different in the PLM market, and I think it adds value.

  • While I applaud ARAS’ approach to provide a way to try their PLM solution for ‘free’ I have some philosophical issues with labelling anything that is not totally ‘open’ as open source. This inevitably leads to the fervent responses that we see in the attached comments.

    At Consult4you we use opensource apps extensively. By open source I mean software that typically is covered by a GPL licence and that has an active developer community and is free to use and modify any way we wish if we need to. To support the community we donate to those open source apps that provide us with a tangible business benefit. This includes apps like Joomla / Virtuemart, Tikiwiki and Eclipse. Even wikipedia. We use them in production and we make money by using them so we consider it only fair that we contribute something back to support them. We don’t have the time to contribute so we typically contribute cash. We also support them by publicly promoting their benefits and limitations.

    When all is said and done we couldn’t realistically operate our consulting business with the freedom to work as we please without access to opensource apps. They make our life easier. This is the real benefit we look for in our use of software.

    • @Leftbrainstuff – Thanks for your comments. It is nice to hear from another consulting service provider that successfully makes use of open source platforms. I agree that “open source” can be a charged term and frequently evokes some fervent responses. From my perspective, I am glad for all of the “open” parts of the Aras Innovator stack even if not every component is accessible to me. I just hope enough people will look past the “true open source” debate to see the value in all open source variants.

  • Keith Pease

    Just to explain that my previous remarks are not intended to disparage ARAS. I worked with Innovator a few years ago I believe it has a lot to offer. Their Business Model is also innovative but if you create a new model give it an appropriate name. Do not muddy the waters by miss using an existing one.

    • @Keith – Thanks for clarifying and offering your support of Aras’ Innovator product. We agree that it is a nice product and that their business model offers something new and valuable in the PLM space. I must admit that I had similar misgivings about Aras’ usage of “open source” at first, but I was missing something. Aras does actually call their model “Enterprise Open Source” which qualifies their use of the term “open source” sufficiently (in my mind). By defining which parts of an Innovator stack are closed source (the Microsoft platform elements), which parts are community source (the Innovator element), and which parts are open source (the Innovator Solution elements), I think they are being clear about the meaning, IMO.

  • Keith Pease

    @Jonathan – Thanks for your interesting response but I would like to make a final comment. I do support ARAS as a good product with interesting ideas in the way it is made available but we do seem here to have slipped back into the word games. Open Source is whare the source code is open and any thing else is not. No grey areas. ARAS Innovator is not.

    • @Keith – I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in on the topic. I’m not worried about word games related to ARAS and their model. I like what they are doing and I appreciate their level of openness regardless of what it is called. And independent of ARAS’s business model and licensing model, I think the software’s functionality and architecture are also impressive. Thanks again for very reasonable comments on the subject.

  • TheWiseOne

    @Jonathan: Keith was referring to your statement that you “just hope enough people will look past the ‘true open source’ debate to see the value in all open source variants.”

    The point is: no such debate over “true open source” can be applied here. You may claim that Aras’s *business model* is more open than competitors, but the Aras software system is not open source software, period.

    My concern with this is that, as an enterprise-facing product, Aras can cause companies to waste money and effort in R&D by misleading them into initially expecting the product to be open source.

  • @TheWiseOne – I hope we can agree to disagree here. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Have you had experience with ARAS Innovator, and if so, what do you think of the product (I know how you feel about the marketing)?

  • KimK

    This is a funny discussion.

    A company claimed her orange is apple-orange. You can eat it as an apple. Someone pointed out “apple-orange” is not apple. Another one said, who said it is an apple? It is an “Enterprise” apple-orange. Do you know how good apple-orange is it to human life? Did you try apple-orange…Then closed the door by “I hope we can agree to disagree here.”

    It seems nobody challenged the goody of “apple-orange”. The main argument is “Do not muddy the waters by miss using an existing one”

    If you still insist there is nothing wrong by posting “apple-orange” as marketing word, unless everyone forgives “marketing is lying (at least at some points)”, I think closing the door can’t reduce the damage in image of Aras and Razorleaf. Not everyone wants to waste the time to say something. Readers mostly know what is right or wrong.

    One solution: Approve this comment out. This gag definitively can save your company image.

  • @KimK – Thanks for your comments, we welcome contributions to the discussion. We don’t intend to censor comments (aside from profane/inappropriate content). I must admin that I only follow parts of your comment, but we nonetheless appreciate the healthy debate.