How to Succeed in the Software Business While Giving Away the Source Code — The AdaCore Experience

by Benjamin M. Brosgol, AdaCore

Open-source software, or, more accurately, Freely Licensed Open-Source Software (“FLOSS”), at first appears to present a dilemma when adopted as part of a business model. If users are allowed to access, modify and/or redistribute the source code, how does a company protect its intellectual property, and more fundamentally, sell something that can be easily and legally reproduced?

AdaCore has faced this issue since the company’s inception in 1994. Its major commercial product, GNAT Pro Ada, is an Ada development environment based on the Free Software Foundation’s (FSF’s) GNU Compiler Collection (GCC). AdaCore has implemented an Ada compiler front end and companion run-time libraries and tools and has contributed these components to the FSF. In turn, the GNAT Pro Ada compiler incorporates the GCC back end for a variety of target architectures. Leveraging the GCC back end has enabled AdaCore to make Ada available on a wide range of platforms, both native and embedded, at a significantly reduced effort – indeed, that was the technical rationale for choosing GCC and a design goal of GCC itself. But the challenge of this approach is how to generate a sustained and profitable business. AdaCore's 25 years of FLOSS experience offers an explanation and “lessons learned”.

©2019 IEEE
IEEE Software, Nov.-Dec. 2019, pp. 17-22
Special Issue: Twenty Years of Open Source Software