How Could the NetBeans Team Make Money from the NetBeans Platform?

With the snowballing interest in NetBeans Platform usage (here's a nice list of +-150 screenshots and counting), is there a place, somewhere/somehow, where Sun/Oracle/NetBeans could make actual money from the NetBeans Platform? (And would the amount of money be an "interesting" amount?)

The above question doesn't really make sense at a point where a handful of applications exist on a framework. However, that clearly is no longer the case, in every conceivable domain, particularly in the enterprise, there are examples of organizations using the NetBeans Platform as the basis of their development. (Even mobile and web developers use the NetBeans Platform, as this article proves.) Even more interesting is the fact that some domains are trying to standardize around a particular platform created atop the NetBeans Platform, for which there is evidence in, at least, the defence, biochemical, and healthcare domains. It would be totally counter productive to simply say: "From now onwards, you will need to pay in order to download the NetBeans Platform." It would potentially be interesting to say, especially since some NetBeans Platform applications have thousands of users: "From now onwards, you can develop on the NetBeans Platform for free, but when you distribute your application, you'll need to pay for each user of your application." I.e., some kind of tracking device could be added to the NetBeans Platform to detect how many users of a particular application on the NetBeans Platform exist and then charge the provider of the application some small fee per user.

Another approach altogether (that doesn't "penalize" you for having a successful product!) might be to close the NetBeans Platform mailing list and NetBeans Platform Wiki, which together are the support lines for NetBeans Platform developers... and make them available to paid community members only, which is a concept the NetBeans community currently doesn't have. Community members would pay a small fee per year for access to the mailing list and Wiki.

And what about the "NetBeans Foundation" approach, i.e., large organizations would pay to become part of a very exclusive group of influential stakeholders driving the direction of the NetBeans Platform, in exchange for an annual fee of some kind? That would definitely give, as a very positive side effect, an even more business-oriented angle to the NetBeans Platform... and potentially encourage JWebPane's speedy arrival, together with its stability and quality, since (based on several discussions with NetBeans Platform based organizations, as well as those considering using it), the single thing of greatest interest is JWebPane. Next on the wishlist, after JWebPane, would be the creation of a generic business platform on top of the NetBeans Platform, which a business-organization based NetBeans Foundation would probably encourage, too. Plus, in exchange for the influence they'd have on the NetBeans Platform's direction, these organizations would also need to (or be encouraged to) contribute development time, i.e., one or more of their key developers would be enhancing & fixing the NetBeans Platform itself. Not a bad deal, seems to me.

However you look at it though, with the increase in scale of NetBeans Platform usage, charging a small fee somewhere along the line can have an accumulative impact. Plus, on top of that, people do distrust things that are free. If they're able to pay (some small amount) they tend to have more faith in it, they then also have recourse if the quality of the product doesn't meet their expectations, since they can then say: "Hey, I paid for this!". And, further on top of all that, I believe companies and individual developers using the NetBeans Platform would be happy to support the product financially, since they're happy with it and like the energetic NetBeans Team that makes so much of their work possible.

It goes without saying (but, for the trigger happy, I'm saying it anyway) that the above ruminations are my own and do not reflect anything else by anyone anyhow anywhere in any shape, form, or color.

In other news. This blog entry has NOTHING to do with NetBeans IDE, i.e., the application you use to create your PHP or Ruby or JSF or Struts applications! If you leave a comment that shows that you do not "get" the difference, it will simply be deleted and your name will be blacklisted so that you will not be able to leave comments here again. You have been warned. :-)

Comments:

There are some very interesting and obviously true facts in your post!

I'd greatly appreciate the variant where some kind of paid support would be offered, but I think that should be more like an option not the regular case. So those who want "priority support" should be able to get it and pay for it. Maybe the model which is used by Jasper Soft could fit.

What I would completely dislike is the variant where I would have to pay for a number of seats, deployments or users of a platform application. I think a open source application shouldn't raise its funding through "plain old license fees". But, if it would be an option to pay some amount and get some kind of premium support/premium documentation/premium features/you-name-it this would be indeed great!

Best Regards,
christian

Posted by t3_chris on May 21, 2010 at 09:39 PM PDT #

I think trying to find ways to generate revenue from Netbeans is interesting, but like Christian I would find the the method of charging the RCP developer based on appliation user seats to be extremely unpalatable. I have already invested a great deal of time for a personal open source project built on top of Netbeans with the idea that it was a free and open system; if it became mandatory to pay for using Netbeans RCP then I would likely abandon it, as well as be more than a little upset. It may make Oracle some money, but I imagine Oracle would also lose face in the community as well.

I would think the monetization paths that you mentioned that really offer the most incentive are those based around expertise. Offering books, holding a conference with training sessions and presentations (NetbeansWorld :) ), premium support, etc. are all things I'd be interested in.

Posted by Steven Yi on May 22, 2010 at 01:25 AM PDT #

The first thing I would like to see is the NetBeans Foundation which would be a central authority that cares about the future of the NetBeans Platform (and IDE, actually -- it makes no sense to have the Foundation just for the Platform).

Because when NetBeans was under Sun, the Platform wasn't seen as something worth monetizing. Under Oracle, we worried weather they will pull the plug or not (given Oracle has their own IDE and supports Eclipse too).

So, the first thing would be to have an actual entity in charge of this -- something legal, not some website or imaginary construct. This entity would want to get our money and will support itself in various forms: donations, support, stakeholder fees or various subscriptions.

Of course, we need some actual backing so we would still need actual companies on board: stakeholders.

Some of these stakeholders might need to pay, but I imagine it will be indirect: they will pay for developer time. Just as lots of companies employ developers to work on the Linux kernel, tools companies will employ developers to work on parts of the NetBeans Platform or NetBeans IDE.

Having a simpler and more modest entity in charge will also allow an ecosystem to form around the Platform and the IDE. I'm not sure Oracle will list my small company as a source to get official support for the Platform, but I'm pretty sure the NetBeans Foundation would (just as there are many companies offering various services around Postgresql, for example).

Now, the big question isn't how should NetBeans make some money. There are surely many ways: I'm working full-time just doing NetBeans Platform-related projects. Many other people are doing a living doing trainings or programming. My questions are:

How much does NetBeans actually cost and would we get enough stakeholders ? Except Oracle, who would get on board to pay either cash or developer time to keep NetBeans going? Because if only Oracle pays, they will be reluctant to allow the Foundation happen (actually they still might, for tax purposes). If NetBeans is a loss leader, can Oracle really afford losing total control ?

Any other solution that doesn't include the Foundation doesn't really interest me as I don't think NetBeans is making Oracle poor. They can always try to get as much money via training, support and other ways and just cover the difference out of the pocket to have their own IDE which may be seen a loss leader for other Oracle products (for example JavaFX).

Plus that now that Oracle owns Java and leads the JCP so they will always need some IDE to provide the reference implementations on: might as well be the OSGi-fied NetBeans.

(Note: My reply also posted here since it was long enough to deserve blog post : http://emilian-bold.blogspot.com/2010/05/re-how-could-netbeans-team-make-money.html ).

Posted by Emilian Bold on May 22, 2010 at 08:03 AM PDT #

Much like Java itself, I would gladly pay for bounties attached to bugs on the bug tracker.

Posted by Curt Cox on May 22, 2010 at 02:50 PM PDT #

Oh, I just had plans to learn the Netbeans platform and recommend it for Swing-based rich client projects. Now I am forced to think twice. Unfortunately.

Let's look at the facts. The Swing toolkit is a decent framework, but it has been neglected by Sun for years and is not really competitive anymore with what Microsoft offers (WPF/Windows presentation foundation, Silverlight).

And now Oracle wants to charge (indirectly) for this outdated Swing toolkit?

Honestly, some of my colleagues have already become Microsoft fanboys. And some customers are already demanding WPF or Silverlight apps or Flash/Flex. For me it already has become inreasingly difficult to recommend Java for desktop applications. If Oracle now started to charge (for the usage of Netbeans RCP or for documentation or access to the Wiki), this would be the best advertisement Oracle could make for competing platforms.

Posted by Worried Java Developer on May 22, 2010 at 10:14 PM PDT #

Hmmm. You should read the blog entry again, then. It's clearly me just thinking out loud. Plus, there's nothing in the blog entry about charging for Swing. Plus, plus, plus. Ah well. Just read the blog entry and read your response and find all the differences, just for fun. :-)

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on May 22, 2010 at 10:23 PM PDT #

Hi Geertjan,

as you know, the Swing toolkit does NOT contain a professional docking framework such as that offered by Netbeans RCP. And it doesn't contain important components such as a treetable component or property sheets. Therefore I view the Netbeans platform as some sort of supplement to make the old Swing toolkit a little more competitive. And it fact, even though Swing has been neglected for years (and continues to be neglected), it is neverthless a very interesting and underrated platform TOGETHER with Netbeans RCP. But not alone anymore.

Again, should anything change in terms of Netbeans RCP licensing or access to documentation, it will become really difficult for me to recommend Java to customers anymore. I've experienced already cases where I proposed Java, but the customer objected. For example, they didn't want an AJAX-based web front end (too slow, too many server roundtrips), even if modern technologies such as Google Web Toolkit are used. And they didn't want crappy Eclipse RCP either. JavaFX is not an option either. So I proposed old Swing with Netbeans RCP and pointed out that with Netbeans RCP, Swing-based development would be much more productive and in turn more cost-effective. In one case, it already took big efforts to persuade the customer to choose Java. The customer orignally wanted to choose Microsoft WPF for a desktop app with the argument that C# and .NET are (apparently) the more modern platform.

Posted by Worried Java Developer on May 22, 2010 at 11:13 PM PDT #

Agree totally with your first paragraph. For large Swing desktop applications, there really is no option other than the NetBeans Platform. About your second paragraph -- makes sense too. So, to make money on the NetBeans Platform, only training & support (i.e., helpdesk, not Wiki and mailing list) would appear to be viable options.

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on May 22, 2010 at 11:36 PM PDT #

The only way that any large new swing project would incorporate Netbeans .. if it would be well funded & supported by oracle or any other organization. If netbeans become as popular as Eclipse in terms of plugin development Money would automatically flow in terms of training,consulting,books,commercial plugins . Also there has to be enough new job opportunities for a swing/java developer to embrace/learn Netbeans .

Posted by pavan kumar on May 24, 2010 at 01:58 AM PDT #

Hi,
"How Could the NetBeans Team Make Money from the NetBeans Platform?"

Continue developing an IDE for Swing Development.

Your are at least 4 years to late to get a foot into the RCP area. The Eclipse RCP has proven to be the best choice for a lot of large companys. OSGI-Core, native UI (-> usability friendly), upcoming css ui styling, using "RAP" your application will work in the web as well as in the client (without a lot of additional programming),...

If you want to do RCP, increase the Oracle eclipse commitments.

Posted by Mario Gutsche on May 24, 2010 at 03:30 AM PDT #

All of the items in your list are true for the NetBeans Platform, including the fact that the NetBeans Platform is the best choice for a lot of large companies (Boeing, NASA, Raytheon, Lockheed, Northrop, to name a few off the top of my head that, among other things, use the NetBeans Platform). In the Swing market, the NetBeans Platform is, in fact, the only RCP in town.

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on May 24, 2010 at 03:36 AM PDT #

Charge for access to tutorials/blogs/Wiki. There are large holes in the current documentation. For instance, you have to frequently trawl through code/mailing lists to find solutions to certain issues.

At the same time, but together the current list of blogs in a much more easily accessable format. There is fantastic information in the current blogs (thank you Geertjan!!), but it sometimes is quite inaccessable. If there was a well indexed list, this would make finding relevant articles much easier.

Posted by Justin L on May 24, 2010 at 12:46 PM PDT #

Justin L, if there are holes, you should say what they are and then they can be fixed. Until then, they won't be. If you know answers that aren't in the FAQ, you should add them there, that's the index of all questions and answers relating to the NetBeans Platform:

http://wiki.netbeans.org/NetBeansDeveloperFAQ

Looking forward to your contributions.

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on May 24, 2010 at 11:26 PM PDT #

IMHO, NB Wiki and ML must not be closed. They are the "entry point" for new developers. How can I bring NBP to my enterprise if I can't find a tutorial for a simple "Hello World"? Even Oracle's RDBMS documentation is open! :)

The best way to make money (still IMHO), is creating a parallel "official" forum and documentation, just like OTN. If you pay, you can have Oracle official answers for your questions, with a SLA's defined deadline. If you don't pay, you must wait until community answers your question eventually.

Posted by Eduardo Costa on May 26, 2010 at 09:50 PM PDT #

Good idea, Eduardo.

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on May 26, 2010 at 09:51 PM PDT #

Charging for Netbeans RCP development is a sure fire way to turn people off netbeans RCP development.
In many cases, it is prohibitively expensive for small developers who want to maximise ROI. Charging a per seat fee for RCP deployments makes no sense. You will kill any free/open developed applications, limit interest and move netbeans over to being only an IDE again.

Especially now with many other alternative application front end frameworks, I believe this will move it into irrelevance.

Also, it is vital for many developers and companies that their end product be as unencumbered as possible.

I don't believe that RCP applications have that critical mass yet where paying for some form of license is acceptable - most applications are still internal made by large corporations, and comparatively few in number.

Obviously, I think having an netbeans completely free is ideal - as someone has said in previous comments, using netbeans as a loss-leader for monetizing other products is a very good idea, especially if there is more in-built integration with other pay products.

I believe the way forward if it must indeed be monetized should be through a Foundation model. This keeps it free for the large number of people at the base of the pyramid, yet gives the stakeholders at the top a way to drive future developments.

Care should be taken though to not paralyse development through constant wrangling (see Swing and JavaFX, closures etc).

I also think that there is a lot of room from monetizing books and other learning materials also. Compare the number of books on Struts, Hibernate, J2EE and even specific JavaSE APIs, to the number of books on Netbeans RCP. I can count them on one hand!
I have bought the netbeans RCP books, and find them severely lacking for advanced RCP development. I would gladly shell out more cash for more in depth "under the hood" more technical materials.

Whatever happens, the most important thing is that it is done fast. I currently have several projects either in the pipeline or currently under development and this uncertainty is making me think twice whether to risk continuing, or cut my losses and pick something I have some kind of assurance about.

Posted by Mike on June 02, 2010 at 11:29 AM PDT #

Interesting comments, Mike. But what uncertainty are you talking about? And what under the hood details would you like books about the NetBeans Platform to provide? Please provide details on these points because right now it's not really possible to give helpful responses on the points you've made. Plus, the fact that applications on the NetBeans Platform are built at mission critical sites such as Boeing, Raytheon, South African Defence Force, and at least 150 other applications, should give you a lot of confidence in this framework. Anyway, provide responses to the two questions above, please. Not "for example" responses, but actual detailed responses.

Posted by Geertjan Wielenga on June 02, 2010 at 12:41 PM PDT #

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About

Geertjan Wielenga (@geertjanw) is a Principal Product Manager in the Oracle Developer Tools group living & working in Amsterdam. He is a Java technology enthusiast, evangelist, trainer, speaker, and writer. He blogs here daily.

The focus of this blog is mostly on NetBeans (a development tool primarily for Java programmers), with an occasional reference to NetBeans, and sometimes diverging to topics relating to NetBeans. And then there are days when NetBeans is mentioned, just for a change.

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