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SAP — Open Source Friend Or Foe ? 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the beer-more-than-speech dept.
pavithran writes "Does SAP, one of the largest business companies offering software solutions, support FOSS as a movement? Why is SAP looking at closed and open source in a similar way? This shows lot of ambiguity in SAP's attitude towards open source software. I found an interesting article in Linux Journal on whether SAP is an open source friend or foe, by Glyn Moody. Here's a quote from the article: 'For an outfit that calls itself "the world's largest business software company," the German software giant SAP is relatively little-known in the open source world. With 51,500 employees, a turnover of 11.5 billion euros ($16 billion) last year, and operating profits of 2.7 billion euros ($3.8 billion), SAP is clearly one of the heavyweights in the computer world. Given that huge clout, SAP's attitude to open source is important; and yet it is hard to tell whether it is really free software's friend or its foe. ... A company that wished open source well would back these ideas. One that really supported free software would also fight against software patents. So, while SAP's involvement in Eclipse and investment in open source companies is welcome — and pretty self-interested, it has to be said, given that it presumably hopes to make a profit on them — it's not really enough cancel out its unhelpful attitude and statements elsewhere. If it wants to be a serious, respected player in the world of open source, as befits its size, it must do better.'"
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SAP — Open Source Friend Or Foe ?

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  • by linumax (910946) on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:48PM (#28311921)
    That is all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:49PM (#28311927)

    You must be a friend or foe, you can't be neutral on the subject. I prefer to use Linux without the dogma attached it it.

    It's non-starter.

  • by Dog-Cow (21281) on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:52PM (#28311983)

    If Open Source is a Movement, you should see a proctologist. SAP doesn't need to be a friend nor a foe to it. They can and should be indifferent, as should 99.9999999999% of the world.

    The ideology is simply unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Only zealots feel a need to paint everyone in black and white.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:53PM (#28312007)

    To some people FOSS is just software to get work done. So they use it where they see fit. They contribute where they see benefit. But they don't sacrafice themselve to the holy crusade of FOSS.

    Actually I would say this is how FOSS should work. If FOSS would have to rely on the altruism of companies it would be doomed. I don't think it is.

    • To some people FOSS is just software to get work done. So they use it where they see fit. They contribute where they see benefit. But they don't sacrafice themselve to the holy crusade of FOSS.

      I would say that's probably a fair share of even FOSS developers. The stereotypical lone developer working to "scratch his own itch" is only developing and contributing where he sees some kind of benefit.

      But lots of people who are enamored with FOSS seem not to recognize that a lot of the development on major projects comes from paid developers working at companies like Google, IBM, Novell, and Redhat. Those companies are "friends" to FOSS, but at the same time, they're contributing to areas where they see benefit. They're profiting from sales of products and services that use FOSS, and they contribute funds and code for the purpose of improving the capabilities of the products and services they sell. There's nothing nefarious about it, but that's just where a lot of the funding and code comes from.

      So some other company doesn't contribute as much, but they also don't benefit as much or as directly from ongoing development. So what? Forgetting everything I wrote in the preceding paragraphs, here's something else to consider: none of these FOSS licenses prevent you from leeching. There's not a clause in the GPL that says you have to contribute in any way in order to make use of the software, or even to distribute the software. The developers who license their software under the GPL have knowingly given the entire world full permission to leech off of their work. If they don't like those terms, then they picked the wrong license.

      • by Narpak (961733) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:47PM (#28313903)

        here's something else to consider: none of these FOSS licenses prevent you from leeching. There's not a clause in the GPL that says you have to contribute in any way in order to make use of the software, or even to distribute the software. The developers who license their software under the GPL have knowingly given the entire world full permission to leech off of their work.

        One could even argue that the more their software is used, even if the majority of use is "leeching", if would still benefit since increased usage would potentially mean more people that would consider active participation. Even if 99% of all new users are leeching that would still mean 1% that contribute; the larger the total number of users the larger the participating group would be. Not to mention that no one would consider contributing to a project that none at all wanted to use.

  • Friend or FOE (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Decameron81 (628548) on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:53PM (#28312009)
    So SAP is either with the Open Source movement or against it? Reminds me of Bush. You know, we would do much better if we realized there ARE shades of grey between black and white.
  • It's pretty simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday June 12, 2009 @02:53PM (#28312011) Homepage Journal

    SAP support Open Source in any tool that allows them to develop and interact with their product.
    The gnomes of SAP will never open SAP up.

    If you have ever looked at SAP structure or code you don't want that box open~

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:03PM (#28312181)

      But the nice thing with SAP is that you can look at the code. They ship their sources to all the customers. I know many so called big open souce supporting companies that don't ship the sources of their products.

      • True. But seriously, that craps a mess.

      • by sunking2 (521698) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:21PM (#28312467)
        They aren't shipping it to be nice. They are shipping because they make tons of money off of the consulting and training that is an offshoot of every business wanting to tweak it. It's all about miling the customer come upgrade time.
        • by happyfeet2000 (1208074) on Friday June 12, 2009 @06:16PM (#28314913)
          I read a lot of complaining about IT being treated and paid like a utility to be used at the lowest possible price, a simple raw material to be imported from wherever it is at the lowest price. Here is a company, SAP, that instead tells its customer to consider its software like an investment, that is, you will pay for it a percentage of the profits it is helping the customer make. They have managed to be payed like management instead of being paid like labor like the majority of IT is. We should take a page from SAPs book.
    • by novasoy (85800) <ed.hammerbeck@gmail . c om> on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:25PM (#28312587) Homepage

      Agreed. You don't want to look at your code. ABAP gives me a headache, and the way SAP designs their code.... I guess I'm just not smart enough to follow what's going on after the 20th INCLUDE within an INCLUDE within an INCLUDE. It's poorly documented, and usually the comments [in the code] are in German.

    • by j.leidner (642936) <> on Friday June 12, 2009 @07:22PM (#28315501) Homepage Journal
      Please avoid ad-hominem attacks, that's not fair regardless of your opinion.

      When you buy SAP, you actually get the full ABAP source code of all the business logic, which is more openness than can be said for most businesses. Having said this it's not the same as open sourcing the software, as you need a commercial license to legally execute it.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @07:19AM (#28318807) Homepage Journal
      How have you looked at it if it's closed?
  • by sexconker (1179573) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:02PM (#28312161)

    What does SAP sell?
    I checked their website, and it was filled to the brim with buzz words.

    No actual product to buy.
    Yet I bet they make billions selling it.

    (Yes, I'm trolling)

  • As an employee... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VorpalRodent (964940) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:10PM (#28312293)
    I don't have a lot of exposure to the sales side of things. I'm an engineer and will work on support calls as needed. However, I can say that internally, I have not witnessed any sort of stigma against it. We've recommended open source solutions for customers as workarounds for issues and have used open source tools internally where appropriate. Everything I've seen suggests that it is viewed like anything else - a potential tool that our customers may or may not benefit from, if used correctly. We build many products on many variants of Linux (which can be viewed as supporting those customers who support and use open source software).

    I admit that it sounds mighty idealistic, but at the same time, like many of the earlier posters, I wholly agree that it is quite possible to take a more neutral stance on the issue. It's not limited to only friends and enemies.

    At the same time, I've been involved with discussions with legal ensuring that GPL'd code is not present in software products I am responsible for as a matter of protection of corporate interests.
    • Re:As an employee... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sasayaki (1096761) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:22PM (#28312505)

      Everything I've seen suggests that it is viewed like anything else - a potential tool that our customers may or may not benefit from, if used correctly.

      This is how all software should be, in my opinion. Creating a zealous movement around it (be that Apple, Linux or Microsoft) does nobody any good. Pieces of software are tools; sometimes you just want a hammer to run games (Windows), sometimes you want a saw to host a web server (Linux), sometimes you want a screwdriver to boost your 'hip' score (Apple).

      Use the correct tool and your life will forever be easier. The Free Software Movement is very important and cool, but ultimately when you find a nail you better have a hammer.

    • by jchawk (127686) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:35PM (#28312735) Homepage Journal

      Idealistic or not you hit the nail on the head with your post.

      Plenty of companies look at software as a tool similar to a hammer or a lathe. Which model or version of the hammer will get the job done for me in the most cost-effective manner.

      I work for a large industrial manufacture and we are deploying plenty of Linux right along side HP-UX, Microsoft 2003, AS400 and Mainframe. What tool makes the most sense for the problem we are trying to solve?

      I honestly believe the longer you work for a for profit company the more you start to understand the statement "Choose the right tool for the job."

  • by juanergie (909157) <> on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:10PM (#28312295) Homepage Journal

    Every software company benefits from Open Source, whether they'd like to admit it or not. They can peek in the Open Source world and find implementation tricks or functional paradigms and apply them to their products. Maybe even embed some GPL applications into a larger proprietary suite.

    I believe SAP will not give up its competitive advantage by fully embracing Open Source if this translates into reduced profits; it does not make economic sense. However, SAP can be supportive (at least non obtrusive) of Open Source to further leverage whatever advantages it may provide and, secondarily, keep the die-hard computer programmers marginally happy.

  • by slashdotlurker (1113853) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:13PM (#28312335)
    I use open source software extensively in my work. I have also contributed open source code (not all GPL, but a good fraction of it is). I like open source for many things.

    However, I do not understand this expectation that software companies should help open source. Microsoft is a special case - it tried to work with hardware vendors to delay the rise of Linux, Openoffice, etc. However, when it comes to pure software competition, a company that makes its living off software (and is not interested in the pure free-software-pay-for-support model than open source encourages) cannot be expected to act against its own financial interests to earn brownie points from the open source crowd.

    Sometimes those interests will mandate open source participation. Other times, they won't. Interested in getting them to support open source ? Change market conditions to make it their interest to participate in open source. Open source might be religion to some, but it is simply an instrument for most of us. Pretty good instrument in most cases, but nothing more.
  • OpenERP (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:13PM (#28312341)

    Nice true open source alternative to SAP:

  • SAP is open source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ingo23 (848315) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:14PM (#28312353)
    Technically speaking, SAP is probably one of the first companies to distribute the source code with their product. Any company that purchased an SAP product gets complete source code for the business application (except for the core, which is more like an OS). One does not even need to apply for access to it, the whole application part is developed in an interpreted language with the source, IDE, and debugger readily available.

    The article complains that SAP does not support all the OSS community initiatives (as if nobody in OSS world ever has had any disagreement) and backs software patents.
    As a software development company, SAP has no other choice than to hold on to their patent portfolio, even if for defense reasons. I am not saying that SAP will (or have) never sue anyone for patent infringement, but I have not heard of any widely publicized case of them doing so.

    • by rbrausse (1319883) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:11PM (#28313353)

      as long as you abandon your support for the changed parts of the software.

      yes, you can get a developer access - but SAP don't sells a off-the-shelf-product but services. you should KNOW what you do before you request a developer key

      • by ingo23 (848315) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:30PM (#28313655)
        You are talking about modifying the SAP developed code. What was the last time you made your own changes to Apache or Linux kernel source? In the SAP world almost nobody is changing the SAP code, although almost everybody looks at it and uses parts of it. There are multiple ways to customize SAP application without changing their own code, that's one of their strong points.

        I am not saying that SAP is an open source product in EFF terms (of course you cannot contribute back). But the source code is openly available to customers to peek into. Unlike most of the software vendors that only give you binaries.

    • by lordholm (649770) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @04:44AM (#28318309) Homepage

      "As a software development company, SAP has no other choice than to hold on to their patent portfolio, even if for defense reasons."

      Is that why SAP was one of the largest actors in pro software patents campaign in Europe? I'd respect an opinion like the one from Oracle where they stated that they don't like patents, but since they exist they must use them for defensive reasons. SAP on the other hand put huge sums of money into actually trying to legalise software patents in the EU where they are not legal at all.

  • It's a Mistake... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:17PM (#28312417)

    ... to treat a large company such as SAP as monolithic.

    Some inside of SAP will be FOSS friends, some will be foes, some will be neither. It depends upon the individuals involved, their attitudes, roles and the incentives SAP gives them.

    • by werfu (1487909) on Friday June 12, 2009 @05:10PM (#28314163)
      Indeed. I work for a multinational consultant firm (27k+ employee) and the official stance on open source isn't for or against either. If FOSS solutions are possible under a situation, that their TCO is less than their closed source equivalents and that the client is open to it, we usualy go the FOSS way. Most often its a mix of it. We use a lot of Java EE. Many Java EE containers use Tomcat as their application server too. We also use extensively Eclipse and customize it for our needs. Anyway... when you get to that size of company you can't have a global thinking against or for FOSS. Heck I know some guys that work at Microsoft that use Linux at home and do open source developpment too!
    • by lenKite (631339) on Friday June 12, 2009 @07:41PM (#28315673) Homepage
      (Disclaimer: I work for SAP)

      The slashdotter above has hit it right on the head. SAP is a large conservative company and there are varying views on open-source across the organisation. Many folks in the company love open source and attempt to evangelize it, others (usually oldies) treat it with deep suspicion and are ingrained with the 'lets-build-a-new-wheel-again' attitude.

      As far as SAP releasing its own products as open source - this is already true for the R3 platform - though it's technically 'view-only' open source (you aren't allowed to modify and distribute, but you can make changes for yourself if you really wished to).

      SAP currently has a hard time decision-making on the technology front. Their primary business products are all built on the ABAP application server/platform but the infrastructure is visibly ageing there. Still, the ABAP VM still has some goodies which are still not available on modern day JVM's - isolation and multi-processing, which is becoming more important in today's parallel world. There have been some productive attempts to support Ruby as a new language on the ABAP VM, etc

      The SAP Java platform has had a backlash against it for being poor, buggy and not having the accustomed, almost legendary 7x24x365 reliability of ABAP AS. As a consequence, internally, there has been a movement 'back-to-ABAP' for many products. I don't particularly care for ABAP, one will admit that it is good at what it does, but with the product acquisitions that we have made (business objects, etc), we have inherited different technologies and we need to learn to make all of them work in harmony

      Give us a few more years to work things out. Despite being an MNC, SAP in some ways is still a traditional 'germanic' company at heart and things move slowly but surely here. It will some more time for people to realise the benefits of opening up their platform to wider adoption.

  • Heh (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by hansraj (458504) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:22PM (#28312513)

    I was about to tag the story "kdawsonsucks" :-D

  • by sirwired (27582) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:29PM (#28312639)

    SAP is in the business of making money, not supporting or not supporting free software. I imagine they support some efforts when it suits their interests (like Eclipse), and oppose others, when it doesn't ("all software should be free".) Of course their participation in open-source is self-interested; they are a business, not a charity. I doubt SAP gives one flying *bleep* about being a "serious, respected player in the world of open source."


  • by bluescreenbert (1185323) on Friday June 12, 2009 @03:53PM (#28313059)
    > SAP's attitude to open source is important; and yet it is hard to tell whether it is really free software's friend The article publisher does not seem to know enough to tell open source and free software apart. There are very few comanies that endorse free software but many that endorse open source. So, what is the article about? Please call RMS to have the difference between open source and free software explained to you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:03PM (#28313191)

    SAP is nobody's friend. They're the enemy of all mankind.

  • by imidan (559239) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:04PM (#28313213)

    Y'know, this kind of article is exactly the reason why we're always having conversations about whether or not Linux (and other FOSS) is ready for general purpose use. Here you have all these open-source advocates, telling anyone who'll listen how great FOSS is, and how it's got this low TCO. That sounds great, but then it turns out there are strings attached. You're a bad FOSS citizen if you're not contributing some completely unquantified amount back to the project. Look, guys, you can't give something away for FREE! and then start laying a guilt trip on whoever took you up on the offer. If you expect X amount of contribution from the users of the software, then you need to move to a licensing model that supports that.


    This entire, whiny article sounds like the Chotchke's manager trying to get his employees to wear more than 15 pieces of flair. If you have some expectation, then make that expectation known. Don't lie about your expectation. If you expect your employees to wear 37 pieces of flair, then make that expectation clear. If you expect users of your software to contribute in some specific amount, then make that expectation clear. But if you lie about your expectations, don't bitch about it when they aren't met.

  • by javacowboy (222023) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:38PM (#28313775)

    No business involves themselves with open source out of idealism or philanthropy. It's all about self-interest.

    Here's the continuum of corporations and their open-source philosophies:

    1) Sun: Open-source almost all their products, gain developer adoption, get bottom-up adoption in corporations, and then charge for support.
    2) IBM/Red Hat: Contribute to the open source community in a large way, but maintain other products that are completely proprietary. Talk up how "pro open source" you are in a massively exaggerated way, unlike Sun that quietly walks the walk.
    3) Apple: Open source some stuff, close source most others. Definitely take more from the community that you give.
    4) Microsoft: Open source nothing. Publicly slam open source: Proprietary development all the way.

    SAP hasn't figured out where it is on the continuum. It's that simple.

  • by binaryseraph (955557) on Friday June 12, 2009 @04:47PM (#28313905)
    I can't speak about SAP and what they do or do not support. But here is my guess... Open source has its place and time- not every project should be OS, however, for those of us who love programing on our free time, or have ideas about making sotware that would be far more enhanced by contributions by the public, it is great. That's not to say their isnt a money making business solution for OS products as well (various linux flavors for example). From a software corp. standpoint, just giving a 'well wish' might be the proper grounds to play. Sometimes being a little vague or contradictory on your standing is the best choice in the long term (politicians do great at this). In short, I have no doubt these guys are looking at a lot of open source, and maybe waiting to watch the industry evolve and see what other software giants do (aside from trying to squeltch it) But mum is the word.
  • Friend or Foe ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gearloos (816828) on Friday June 12, 2009 @08:07PM (#28315865)
    The debate is still open wether SAP is even it's own customers Friend or Foe!! I work at a ~20k employee company that went SAP this year. I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING good to say about SAP. So I'll just shut up and keep my integrity, what little I have left heh
  • Foe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Crowface (1315695) on Friday June 12, 2009 @09:31PM (#28316423)

    They sold MaxDB to MySQL, who open sourced it. After MySQL and various contributors improved MaxDB to the point where it was useful, they bought it back and immediately closed the source. Those are pretty clearly the actions of a ardent foe of open source.

  • by petrus4 (213815) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @05:24PM (#28322517) Homepage Journal

    I'm getting very tired of hearing the usual cry of, "If you're not with us, you're against us!" where FOSS is concerned, coming from the usual suspects. I think a certain quote about only a Sith dealing in absolutes, is appropriate here.

    The paranoia possibly wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't so completely baseless. People still using proprietary stuff from Microsoft or whoever hasn't killed open source up to this point, and it isn't going to kill it in the future.

    There are a lot of genuinely terrible things being done by corporations at the present time; I would agree with anyone who suggests that. However, the death of Free Software is not, nor is it going to be, one of them.

    People keep seeing an endless array of supposedly lethal threats; binary device drivers, DRM, even apparently the use of non-GPL FOSS licenses. Yet all of these things exist, and continue to exist, and FOSS itself co-exists with them just fine.

    So for those of you who continue to insist on being hysterically terrified of how the evil corporations are going to kill FOSS entirely, please, I'm begging you, get over yourselves.

    Also, stop listening to Stallman. He is wrong, he has been wrong, and he continues to be wrong, over and over and over again; and I know that he is the main source, ultimately, of most of your fear and paranoia. I've gone over the countless ways in which he is catastrophically misguided many times before, but if you feel like replying and asking for citations, I'm more than happy to do it again, in the hope of potentially educating someone.

    Try it; purely as an experiment. For a single month, stop listening to the FSF's (and its' fanboys) paranoid ranting and foaming at the mouth about the corporate wolves at the gate, and see if, at the end of said month, FOSS as a whole is still here. I suspect the outcome will cause you to be very surprised; although it won't surprise me much at all.

    Myopic, paranoid, condescending, dismissive, ad hominem laced, pro-FSF reply incoming, I'm sure. Also, once again, for those of you with mod points who don't have the brains or capacity for independent thought to refute me logically, please feel free to down-mod this post into oblivion; my karma on this site is sufficiently good that it can withstand a significant amount of your cowardice.

  • by hackel (10452) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @09:11PM (#28323837) Journal

    There should be no debate on this issue. Is SAP releasing its software under a Free and open source license? If not, then it is NOT a friend of open source. It really could not get any simpler than that. Companies which produce proprietary software do not understand or agree with OSS philosophies and are certainly not friends...

  • by Servo (9177) <> on Sunday June 14, 2009 @01:03AM (#28324755) Journal

    Seems to be an RMS religious rant to me. SAP is a for profit company. They write proprietary software. They have interests to protect. I can fully understand why they don't want the government coming along and forcing their applications to either become open source or allow open source clones of their proprietary application. It is also reasonable that SAP likes Linux, open source development tools, and consortium's that produce open source software that extend and interact with their proprietary software. Presumably this allows them access to additional market share, cheaper development costs, etc. There is no friend or foe. Get over it.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson