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Editors' Blog Subversion is a very popular open source Software Configuration Management (SCM) tool and I've heard someone unkind say "Perforce is good too, but it's just like paying for Subversion when you don't need to".

This paragraph already opens up several cans of worms: are these tools really "configuration management" or simply "version control" tools, for one; and is open source software actually free anyway (hint: the lifecycle cost of commercial software is many times its purchase price and the lifecycle cost of "free" software is similar)?

And as our comparison makes clear, it is somewhat unfair to Perforce, although Subversion is certainly "fit for purpose" too – perhaps slightly different purposes.

Of course, Perforce must be aware of the apparent attractions of open source and even actively supports the open source movement in some areas.

One example is Open Watcom, which produces a respected set of Open Source cross-platform C, C++, and Fortran compilers and tools – including the famous Watcom C++ and WATFOR compilers from my youth. Perforce is now hosting the project's open source server.

The Open Watcom project, like many open source projects, is developed and run by a "loosely knit collaboration of volunteers", says Peter Chapin (who is a professor at Vermont Technical College and an Open Watcom volunteer manager). "Without Perforce's support, both in terms of licencing Perforce SCM and in hosting a server for the project, no doubt, Open Watcom would have fizzled out."

According to Christopher Seiwald, Perforce's president and CTO, the company has "always tried to support open source development in suitable ways. We issue free Perforce licences to open source projects and this commitment to host Open Watcom's server is a modest way we can assist the open source community".

So that's all right, then. Moving beyond flippant, I think it is healthy that commercial software vendors (some of them anyway) and open source can collaborate. I see open source as, ultimately, simply an alternative approach to development QA using peer inspection.

There are other approaches although their history doesn't make them an overwhelmingly obvious alternative. Even so, Perforce's USP is its tight focus on doing one thing (being a fast, developer-friendly SCM tool) and doing that well, and this comes - at least in part - from Chris Seiwald's tight control. If Perforce was an open source project, would it be the Perforce some of us know and love? That's for developers to decide for themselves.

Anyway, according to Perforce: "Any organisation developing software licenced or distributed exclusively under an open source licence is eligible to obtain Perforce licences for free."

It lists a selection of open source projects using Perforce, including: the FreeBSD OS; the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a facility of the National Science Foundation; the VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute; and the Persistence of Vision Raytracer (POV-Ray), a ray tracing program available for a variety of computer platforms. ®

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