A lot of ink has been spilled over the last few years on the open-source software movement. In June, Business 2.0 reported that the Linux open-source operating system is expected to outpace all competitors (except Windows) eventually, and is expanding its market share by 25 percent annually, according to IDC.
High-profile companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have embraced Linux with fervor. The Business 2.0 story pointed out that other open-source software in heavy commercial use includes the Apache Webserver, which now helps run 60 percent of the world's Web sites, according to Netcraft.
Although Linux companies have had their ups and downs in the stock market in recent quarters, the open-source movement's momentum doesn't seem likely to stop. In fact, Internet Week reported in September that Giga Information Group analyst stacey Quandt has criticized Sun Microsystems for not supporting the Linux operating system on Sun servers.
But what about open-source CRM applications? When we last surveyed CRM vendors about supporting Linux, there didn't seem to be much enthusiasm. Only a few vendors, YOUcentric and Firstwave among them, had announced support. But a new start-up called Anteil (Dutch for "share") is bucking the trend. Based in Harrisburg, Penn., the company bills its CRM application as an alternative to traditional, and often limiting and costly, CRM solutions.
Anteil offers a basic open-source application at no charge, saving customers the cost of licensing fees, which it says can be as much as 30 percent of a CRM implementation. Developers can then choose to customize their own solutions or avail themselves of Anteil's services, which include consulting and implementation, custom CRM integration and development, project/program management, training and technical support, telesupport, publication and documentation services and portal and community management. Features of the Anteil solution include consolidated account information, contact manager, sales opportunity manager, campaign manager, event manager, consolidated marketing materials, corporate communications, calendars and a sales forecasting system.
The company claims--as, indeed, do all open-source boosters--that open-source has many advantages. Foremost is that open-source (by its very definition) gives you access to the source code so you can modify the software any time to suit your needs. With closed-system CRM vendors, "You are handcuffed to their development schedule," says Anteil president and CEO, James Capp.
Although Anteil's basic solution is free, Capp aims to draw revenue from selling customization services. "This is a money-maker," he says, "because a lot of customization is needed in CRM." By contrast, much less is needed for operating systems, for example, he says.
Reliability is another perceived advantage. Because a world-wide pool of developers is making continuous improvements, open-source software is higher quality and more reliable, according to Anteil. "This is a new paradigm," says Capp. "You give the code away and get a better quality product."
Anteil began from a collaboration between what was then called Keystone Programming and VA Linux, a provider of Linux solutions and still a customer of Anteil. "VA Linux needed a CRM system and Keystone had what they wanted," says Capp, who was head of Keystone at the time. The two companies continue to have a close relationship with Gregory Chabrier, who as a sales executive at VA Linux, saw how the Anteil system worked, and is serving as a consultant to Anteil today.
With Linux and open-source gaining in popularity, it is more and more critical to have open-source CRM, says Jonathan Brookner, director of one-to-one research for the Peppers and Rogers Group. "You can't have CRM that is not allied with the platform you're using," he says. Brookner predicts that open-source CRM will turn out to be more user-friendly than some other products currently on the market. "That can only be a good thing," he says.