Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Firebird Poor?

This is a continuation of previous post about Firebird. Now I’d like to consider some facts about money flows around Firebird.
First of all, a good question is how much money is being consumed by Firebird.
The only public information is a set of reports from Firebird Foundation. The last public report is from 2007 year:
Full set of FF documents is here:

Well, you can look at numbers in these reports yourself and make conclusions too. Probably many readers of this blogs have annual income more than whole FF has.
I don’t know the numbers from private companies who pay staffers for work at Firebird (part of full time), but I can suppose that their spending is in the same range.
Comparing this amount with money spent by different ventures or IT companies into other open-source databases and their forks we can say it’s low. I don’t speak here about MySQL investments and impressive final sale, but there some examples for PostgreSQL with several million investments (check Google for “PostgreSQL investments”).
There can be a lot of speculations about nature and intentions of venture capitalists and so on, but it seems quite obvious that our “bird” does not eat enough to grow fast enough…
But let’s get back to the initial question - Is Firebird Poor?
In terms of cash flow I think we need to say - yes, Firebird as virtual entity is poor.
But we need also to estimate the assets that Firebird has (since it’s a virtual entity I need to say “can leverage” or “is possible to increase money flow for people involved”, but I hope that “Firebird has” is clear enough). If someone has valuable assets – sure he is not poor .

Let’s start with web-site as it’s a well known asset for everyone.
Since has 5000+ visitors highly concentrated on Firebird and related areas, it can be a good source of money.
Let’s imagine a shop at this site, something like with featured products at the main page of General shareware rule gives us an empiric ratio of visit to sales as 100 to 1. Consider we have 50 sales of a software everyday (actually there can be more sales since there will be more products for different areas of Firebird-related things), 20 from featured products at main page and 30 from general shop, with average price USD$200. Getting 50% average commission from featured products and 30% from general shop will produce USD$200*20*%50 + USD$200*30*%25 = USD$ 3500. It’s per day, and ~1.2mln USD per year. Looks impossible? Ok, even if you imagine the hardest crisis for the next year, you can divide it by 10, so it can be 120k USD, the same as Foundation gathers from members, sponsorship and donations.
Many users of Firebird are also Delphi/C++ Builder users. Let’s ask them to buy from to support Firebird and get sales commission from Embarcadero – here is another hundred of USD$k.
Advertising is also a good point to sell. Imagine the advertising of Oracle at some page? Looks abnormal? Really? Probably you richer than IBM – look here:
(This way also can sell InterBase, by example. No? Still feel you are richer than Mr. Gates?). And this is only the first point. Having community in several hundreds people it’s a good first step to build some nice social network sponsored by advertising (don’t forget that Google is an advertising agency and… they feel good :-) )
There were some opinions that is a technical site for project news and stuff only and it should keep spirit of open-source development, and if someone wants to make a shop he need to build it at some other place and so on…

Well, personally I don’t see anything bad in going in a quick way to get money for Firebird and use valuable asset in the most efficient way. I am pretty sure Firebird users will be happy with all-in-one site and they will understand and support the reasons of implementing Firebird-related shop near the downloads and news pages of Firebird.
But, of course, it’s possible that I am just not rich enough and I think too much about money… may be true open-source believers should work in basements and hope for … raise of machines? Come into a fortune from the rich uncle? Donation from mr. Abramovich?

From the organization point of view, to keep intact the independence and distributed nature of Firebird, shop activity (site redesign, orders processing, money flow management) can be outsourced to some company-operator.
The company-operator should be chosen at the open tender to correspond to required conditions and should sign service-level agreement to implement and reflect all important aspects of this shop’s operation.
Who need to perform this tender? What are the conditions? Who will decide how to spend money and there to invest it? (now there is no such question, because all amount is completely consumed by research and developments, but with $1M per year… hmm, Firebird can afford some marketing activities too)
Obviously the main source of decisions should come from current administrators of Firebird project. This will require some courage and will of power, but I am sure they have it. Some people can say that Firebird Foundation can play this role, but, sorry, it is a non-commercial organization. I am the member of Firebird Foundation, but my opinion is that Firebird entity need to set (and achieve) very specific business-oriented goals, such as growth of user base and increasing money flows for R&D and marketing, aggressive competition and so on.
Open source is good when it’s quickly developing and spreading over the world (like IBM does :-) ), but it seems that currently Firebird does not look like a very successful open-source project. I would say the numbers of users and installations are much lower than it can be.
I don’t intend to offence any Firebird Foundation members or Committee, they do a great job, but I truly believe that Firebird need to have more business-oriented management which will rule their assets more efficiently.

And let’s back to the assets :-) In the next part I’ll share some ideas how to use Firebird brand-name (which is currently owned by FF), source code and millions of installations to get several millions $ more for Firebird growth.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What is Firebird?

I’d like to clarify some facts about Firebird and Firebird Foundation. I think right now is a correct time to remind how all these things are organized, because some messages about "crisis, firebird's death, low finances" and so on being spreaded around.
It seems that many people think that Firebird Foundations owns Firebird, makes development strategic/tactic decisions or something like this. This is not real, in fact the Firebird Foundation is an institution to collect donations and sponsors money and grant them to people, related with Firebird development. To understand exactly who is who we need to look at the current situation with Firebird.

First of all, Firebird does not exist as an entity. There is no such thing as Firebird company/organization.
We can say that Firebird as virtual entity contains 2 parts: 1) set of material assets and 2) people who perform different activities.

Three main assets of Firebird are: source code and installers stored in CVS, website and set of services for maintaining bugs and feature requests. Source code is controlled by Project admins awharrison, bellardo, dchri, dimitr, helebor, pcisar, seanleyne, skywalker (
You may notice that some of them are working at Sun :-). Probably this list was not updated for some time. Of course, there are contributors granted by admins who can submit code to CVS and perform other activities with files at repository.
The second Firebird asset is web site Domain is owned by Helen Borrie according to the DNS records. The site itself is located at the dedicated server (according to tracert) in Canada.
The third asset is Firebird tracker dedicated server, also somewhere in Canada. It would be interesting to see a photo of these computers :-)
Not so much? But it stands more than 5000 visits every day and log more than 1000 installations at Windows platform per day (!), according to the statistics of the installer’s 'landing page'. Also there are more than 1 mln downloads of all Firebird installers and other files per year from the sourceforge:

Groups of people are involved into Firebird projects are much more interesting. There are 102 developers listed at Sourceforge home of Firebird.
As you can understand, not all of them are performing equally. Many people listed there did not submit anything for a long time ago, but there are always a small active group of people who perform 99% of R&D (research and development) and other work. Some members of these groups are migrating slowly: people come and leave, as their interests and life goals are changing.

How these people are compensated by its work? There are two sources of money: people work at “usual job” and dedicate part of time in fact paid by employer, to the Firebird development (the brightest example of this approach is IBPhoenix), and the second source is granting from Firebird Foundation or from other organizations.

How are decisions made in such structure? Firebird development decisions are made by projects admins and leading contributors (they know each other personally) - they discuss and issue roadmaps and perform tasks assignments (using, and perform actual coding and testing.

Web site is made by efforts of Helen Borrie and Pavel Cizar (may be someone else is involved too, not sure).

Finance decisions of Firebird – well, there are no finance decisions in Firebird itself, as it is a virtual entity.
Firebird Foundation considers developers' work and allocates grants according the amounts they have, IBPhoenix and other companies, who employ developers of Firebird, pay to them according to some internal reasons.

Since source code of Firebird is under IPL and IDPL licenses, it’s not possible to sell Firebird itself.

HR decisions – I mean who should make this or that or who takes this (virtual) position. In development area this decisions are made in democracy style: currently most active developers (now leaded by core developer Dmitry Yemanov) consider and discuss a person and its work/commitment. For other activities like web site and documentation there are a few volunteers who make everything, from decisions to implementation (there are always not enough skilled documentation writers).

This is the current situation. Of course, it has some advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage that Firebird as a distributed entity is virtually immortal in terms of close of sources. Many people are still afraid that someone will “own” Firebird, close its sources and make it proprietary. According to IPL and IDPL this scenario is not possible, and Firebird will live even with the single person who will perform basic activities.
The biggest disadvantage is the reflection of distributed structure of virtual Firebird entity - is not suitable for large investments of money and volunteers efforts.

To be continued…