The multi-billion-dollar market for CRM software is hotly contested by closed source vendors like SAP, Oracle and Salesforce.com among others, all of whom spend tens of millions of dollars marketing their wares.
Can open source compete? John Roberts, CEO of open source CRM vendor SugarCRM, has been out to prove that it can for the past four years and is upping the ante with Sugar 5.0.
"We're a pull model and the Web is pulling us, whereas 99 percent of CRM vendors are push," Roberts told internetnews.com. "We're not afraid of any commercial CRM vendor."
Roberts' bravado comes in part from his enthusiasm for Sugar 5.0, which expands customization capabilities, includes an embedded e-mail system and boasts a new on-demand architecture.
For SugarCRM, open source isn't just a marketing angle, it's also how they decide where to enhance the technology.
Roberts explained that the requirement of having embedded e-mail inside of the CRM came from the open source users. Rather than starting from scratch, SugarCRM makes use of Yahoo's open source e-mail libraries for nearly half of the embedded e-mail clients code base.
Though Sugar 5.0 will have embedded e-mail, it is intended to be an e-mail client as opposed to a full fledged e-mail collaboration server.
It's also expected to be easier to build add-on modules for Sugar 5.0. Roberts explained that since the Sugar 4.5 release last year, the platform has had a module framework, but to do complex things you'd have to be a developer.
The new module builder in Sugar 5.0 is a do-it-yourself simplified mechanism for users to build or customize their own CRM module. Newly built modules can then be shared with other Sugar users on the SugarForge repository, which, together with SugarExchange, is SugarCRM's open source answer to Salesforce.com AppExchange.
The open source community might also be further boosted with the Sugar 5.0 release since it will be the first Sugar release under the GPL version 3 license. All previous versions of Sugar had been provided under SugarCRM's Mozilla Public License Plus Attribution, which is not an official Open Source Initiative (OSI)-approved license.
Last month Roberts announced his intention to move Sugar to the new GPL, which also includes an attribution clause. Attribution means a "powered by" notation in the program is included.
Roberts has been at odds for years with the OSI over licensing and recently bumped heads with an OSI official at LinuxWorld over whether open source licensing actually matters.
"It's quite a sizable project to embed the GPLv3 licensing in your code base," Roberts said. "We've been working with the FSF [Free Software Foundation] to make sure we've done it correctly."
Though Roberts has chosen GPLv3 for his open source license, he doesn't expect the new license to put him at odds with Microsoft.
In early 2006, SugarCRM signed a deal with Microsoft enabling the open source CRM to run on Windows.
As part of that deal Sugar was set to be released under a Microsoft Shared Source License. Sugar 5.0 will not be available under a Microsoft Shared Source license.
"Nothing has changed in the relationship with Microsoft," Roberts said. "We still have our weekly calls with them."
He explained that Sugar still has complete support on Microsoft platforms and, though Sugar will not be using a Microsoft Shared Source license, he praised Microsoft for its clear and legible licensing terms.
The Sugar 5.0 release comes more than a year after the 4.5 release and marks the longest release cycle yet for SugarCRM. Between version 4 and 4.5, as was the case with previous versions, the release cycle had only been roughly every six months.
The reason for the delay with version 5? SugarCRM was aiming for perfection. Roberts noted that the internal code name for the 5.0 release at SugarCRM was "Perfection."
"We're at the level that it just takes longer since the application is bigger deeper and richer," Roberts said. "It's all part of our evolution of the engineering release cycle."
A beta community preview release of Sugar 5.0 is expected to be available this week with full general availability expected by the end of September.