Melding two of the hottest trends in IT, ClearNova Inc. will make its rapid application development platform for Ajax an open source project, with the framework available for a free download.
Called ThinkCap JX, the beta version already has more than 750 downloads, according to Steve Benfield, ClearNova's vice president of strategy. Plans are for a community site, www.thinkcap.org, to go live in early February. The source code will also be made available at that time.
By the end of this week, Benfield said the full framework, not the beta, should be available for download on the ClearNova site.
"When we talk to potential customers, the biggest hesitancy we run into is proprietary code and paying per server," Benfield said. "We think we can make more money if we get it into more hands."
While the framework will be available via GPL license for non-commercial distribution, the workbench for it will cost $499 per year per developer. For independent software vendors that need to operate outside the constraints of a GPL license, there will be a $2,000 per developer commercial license.
The real advantage, though, in going the open source route may not be in pricing, but in time to market. Vendors are feverishly working on Ajax toolsets, and the open source model allows ClearNova to puts its product into the marketplace and start offering continuous upgrades to it.
Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions LLC, believes Ajax is "a good cultural fit" with open source.
"ClearNova's facing up to reality, and a lot of other software vendors will have to do the same," he said. "Customers are less interested in buying products than in seeking out expertise. The smart thing to do is to let viral adoption and community involvement do their thing."
Benfield expects the initial returns from community involvement to center around bug testing: "There is a lot of code in this product." Yet he also expects users will create reusable components that enable others in the community to stand up to their applications more rapidly.
Gardner believes Ajax could be a new proving ground for open source. He noted that open source "makes your innovation curve steep and aggressive," creating the expectation in users that new functionality will come in a steady stream rather than in marketing-driven major and point releases.
"It's kind of like the iPod," he said, "Convenience is going to be the killer app."
ClearNova could make a name for itself in this space, building a strong customer base around a fairly mature product, while vendors married to the traditional software development and distribution model are still working off their drawing boards.
Benfield certainly hopes that's the case and noted that by the end of last week, before the announcement had even been made, the company had already booked 25% of its projected 2006 revenue for the product.