Digital asset management vendor Southpaw Technology announced last week that it is releasing its TACTIC software as open source.

TACTIC, which had been targeted at digital content creators, is being released under the Eclipse Public license, which is generally considered less restrictive than the more frequently used GPL. This allows any individual, team, department or enterprise to download the TACTIC software for free and start using it for projects. Southpaw will continue and expand its support packages and professional services, as well as offer a commercial license for any organizations that prefer or require such licenses.

TACTIC Team and Enterprise Editions

Initially, the open source version is available in a new product called TACTIC TEAM, which is a desktop solution designed for small teams and for a company’s evaluation of the product’s core features. After a company is comfortable with TACTIC TEAM, it can then download and use the more robust TACTIC ENTERPRISE, with or without help from Southpaw.

To assist users, Southpaw has created several tutorial videos, and has launched a community forum for sharing usage tips, code and add-ons. Companies that want assistance in customizing TACTIC for their needs can utilize Southpaw’s Premium Support and Professional Services.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, CEO Gary Mundell said that “it’s time to re-think how companies approach asset management, project management and workflow.”

He added that removing the “restrictive licensing fees is a win-win for everyone,” as customers get access to “a very mature and very flexible production asset management solution” that they can adapt to their internal needs, without restrictions.” When assistance is needed, Mundell noted, “they can come to the TACTIC experts, us.”

Why TACTIC Went Open Source

CMSWire talked to Southpaw Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Remko Noteboom to find out why the company took this major step.

Over the seven years that the commercial version of TACTIC has been out, Noteboom said, it has been adopted by a variety of departments within some organizations. This has happened, he said, even though TACTIC was originally developed for the computer graphics and visual effects world, and the workflow, “from conception to final product,” reflects those origins.

But, Noteboom pointed out, the software product “wasn’t expanding to other departments” in some organizations because there were questions about licenses. The company talked with some of its customers, and “almost universally they were looking at needing more licenses.” Southpaw “did issue site licenses,” he said, “but it depended on the size of the company,” it could get fairly complex fairly quickly, and some smaller companies could not afford site licenses.

At the same time, Noteboom said, Southpaw found that the percentage of its revenue from support and services “was steadily increasing as a portion of our total revenue.”

“By going open source,” he said, “TACTIC can now see much greater growth” into new departments at existing customers, as well as into new organizations, which will correspondingly bring a larger growth in support and professional services.

Learning Opportunities

The decision to go open source was made following research into the experience of other open source companies. “We were very careful about this,” Noteboom said.

Southpaw looked at the experiences of Red Hat, VMware and Ubuntu -- companies whose business models feature support for open source software. One company that they examined particularly carefully was Acquia, the commercial arm of the open source content management software Drupal. And, Noteboom said, he has “always been a big fan of Linux,” the open source operating system.

Noteboom acknowledged that there are a variety of open source DAM solutions already in the market, such as FocusOPEN or Entermedia. But, he said, “none of them have the pedigree we do, and this lends credibility to what we’re doing.”

Finding the New ‘Sweet Spot’

As a result of the move to open source, Southpaw’s support structure may be modified. “Before, support was sitting on top of our licensing arrangements,” he pointed out, “but now we’ll need to package it more,” possibly in new offerings. Noteboom noted that companies that had already paid for licenses will be “grandfathered into a better support level.”

He pointed out that there already is a substantial community of TACTIC users who are very familiar with the product, its adaptability and its code.

“Most customers don’t need to customize the base code,” he said, but they’ve been familiar with it. He pointed out that, because the product was written in Python instead of, say, Java, so the source code has always been visible to customers. He also noted that a lot of modifications desired by customers can already “be done from the interface, with the script editor.”

As with other open source businesses, Southpaw will take the lead in spearheading new releases, and will utilize additions and fixes from the community.

The company has “spent a lot of time deciding this was the right thing to do,” Noteboom said, and it knew “that this would be disruptive in the market.” Now, he added, as the disruption settles down, Southpaw will need to “find its sweet spot once again.”