The days of selling software through the traditional commercial model are numbered, as open source is becoming the paradigm of choice, said Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, at the EclipseCon 2006 conference on Wednesday.

Software is becoming is increasingly commoditised, Stein said during his keynote presentation, and more of it is available free and it is easy to get.

He cited the OpenOffice office automation package as an example of free software that could replace Microsoft Office.

All your software will be free

"As the open-source stack grows and grows and takes over more areas, there's less money available in packaged products," Stein said.

"All of your software will be free. It means that, over time, you aren't going to be paying for software anymore but will instead pay for assistance with it", Stein said.

He estimated that in five to ten years, most software used today will be free.

"The notion of packaged products is really going to go away," Stein said.

Eventually, a free software project will overtake a commercial effort in functionality; there are almost always more developers in the open-source community, Stein said.

Making money in software will involve selling assistance services for functions such as installation, configuration, maintenance, upgrading, testing and customisation, Stein said. Basic software components themselves will be free, he said.

"As our systems grow more and more complex, more and more assistance is necessary," he said.

An audience member was not so willing to concede the software market to open source.

"I think there's always going to b a spot for commercial, closed-source software for specialised tasks, but the base infrastructure will be more open source or easily available," said Danny D'Amours, computer systems officer at the National Research Council.

Commercial, closed-source software will not go away "because there's so many small niches that people will be able to exploit or be able to make commercial solutions off of," D'Amours said.

Evolving licences

In other parts of his presentation, Stein discussed the evolution of software licensing and compared Apache to Eclipse.

"A licence can ruin a perfectly good piece of software," Stein said, borrowing a quote from fellow Apache participant Jon Stevens.

"A bad licence can make it so restrictive that nobody wants to use the software," Stein said.

Licensing has taken various forms, ranging from the traditional proprietary licence used by Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle; to Microsoft's somewhat less-restrictive Shared Source licence to the all-access GNU General Public Licence (GPL), which has caused problems, Stein said.

"The GPL is sometimes considered viral in that it grows out to the entire software package", requiring the release of all code affected by it, he said.

Even licences associated with Google, where Stein is employed, Yahoo and MSN are closed, he said. "Their software is also closed. It's proprietary; you can't get at it," said Klein.

In comparing Eclipse and Apache, Stein said Eclipse looked at the Apache model when being founded. Like Apache, which started with a web server, Eclipse has expanded beyond its original mission, now being more than just an IDE. But Eclipse has paid staff while Apache is all-volunteer, said Stein.

"Our organisations [have] not been very close, but certainly, we're starting to see more co-operation between them" Stein said.

Apache has long-term initiatives under way such as its Harmony J2SE (Java 2 Standard Edition) implementation, Stein noted. Apache has also taken on endeavours that would have been surprising several years ago, such as the Derby database, he said.

Stein cited patents as an issue for open source, particularly in the area of standards. "Standards that have patents in them are going to be very difficult and one of the big areas in the future that are going to cause problems for open source," Stein said.