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SugarCRM goes folksy with Mickos philosophy

Simple by necessity

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MySQL chief executive Marten Mickos is surely regarded as a rainmaker among the entrepreneurial wing of the open source movement.

Not only did his company pick wisely when it came to endorsing an open source technology, it also convinced a major, publicly traded entity to part with $1bn for no discernable return - despite its own challenges in making money.

The secret of Mickos' success is surely his penchant for keeping it simple - to do one thing and do it really well. In this case, it was the database.

The philosophy, in Mickos' words, is to "stick to the knitting".

That's a motto chief executive John Roberts appears to now be living by for his open source company, SugarCRM, as he thinks things have worked out for the best as far as MySQL and Sun is concerned.

SugarCRM is looking for success of its own, planning an IPO within the next two years. With the customer relationship management (CRM) vendor struggling to get out from under the shadow cast by Salesforce.com, and the markets tipping against tech IPOs, SugarCRM is also sticking to the knitting to succeed. In this case, the knitting is CRM.

That means no vague, platform-on-demand strategy and no concocting a meta-data-based programming language such as Apex.

"Salesforce are talking about a platform play, we are still committed to CRM - it's a huge category," Roberts told Reg Dev during a recent interview. "To abandon the CRM market, which seems to be what they are doing, is a reaction to not having anything new to offer. For us, we will always be committed."

As to Salesforce.com's Apex, Roberts said SugarCRM is sticking with PHP. "They call themselves a platform but they still have to create programming languages, but that doesn't help or benefit the customer," Roberts said.

Of course, Roberts' tune might change once he becomes answerable to shareholders demanding growth, pushing the company into areas he doesn't want to go.

Roberts' pragmatic stance is partly due to circumstances. The latest edition of SugarCRM, version 5.0, shipped later than planned thanks to an additional round of code reviews. SugarCRM, which is growing, also remains smaller than Salesforce.com and is lacking a comparable ISV ecosystem.

SugarCRM has 500 modules, 3,000 customers, and 160 employees although it claims 4.5 million downloads and support from 12,000 developers - the standard two metrics used to measure one's "success" in open source. That compares to Salesforce.com's 750 applications on its AppExchange marketplace, 2,070 employees, and nearly a million subscribers at 38,000 organizations.

That IPO, meanwhile, will likely have been pushed out given the current state of the markets and the fact SugarCRM's investors will want a return on their investment.

There is uncertainty, meanwhile, over the future state of the software-as-a-service CRM market if, indeed, Salesforce.com is offering itself up to Oracle for purchase.

Roberts, though, is upbeat. He claimed the release of SugarCRM 5.0 marks the "end of the beginning" for his company, by offering a scalable CRM product and service with shareable modules, and that SugarCRM is now out of its "start-up phase". That phase, according to Roberts, included adopting "different approaches" and covered last year's spat over the attribution license, resolved when SugarCRM adopted GPLv3.

"The commercial open source business model people are still figuring it out. We stopped figuring it out a few years ago. The one major change would have been attribution a few years ago... we went with [GPL] v3... there is peace and harmony in the open source world," Roberts said. ®

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