Alfresco has new Activiti en route to Apache

Interesting news from open source content management vendor Alfresco this morning, which has launched the Activiti business process management project and hired Tom Baeyens, founder and architect of the JBoss jBPM project, and fellow architect Joram Barrez to create it.

While the project will be led by Alfresco employees, Activiti is not designed to be an Alfresco-only initiative. Activiti will be licensed under Apache License 2.0 to encourage widespread usage and adoption. The SpringSource division of VMware is also involved, as well as Signavio and Camunda, while Alfresco plans to submit the project to the Apache Foundation.

Open source already has a presence in the BPM space thanks to JBoss jBPM, ProcessMaker, Intalio, and BonitaSoft, amongst others. However, as an Apache-licensed project, Activiti is likely to shake-up the BPM market with a ubiquitous project that supports the BPMN 2.0 standard from the Object Management Group.

Red Hat’s JBoss jBPM project is likely to feel the impact – not least since Tom Baeyens and Joram Barrez are joining Alfresco (we understand, incidentally, that Alfresco asked Red Hat to consider re-licensing jBPM and the latter declined).

Although the leadership has come from jBPM they have not brought any of the jBPM code with them. Activiti is being written from scratch, apart from the Activiti Modeler browser-based process modeling tool, which is based on the Signavio Process Editor.

Clearly, since it does not have skin in the BPM game, Alfresco can afford to disrupt that market with a liberally-licensed project and generate revenue from its complementary products and services (see also “A capitalist guide to open source licensing”). However, it seems likely that Activiti could also be a prelude to a more liberally-licensed Alfresco.

In the announcement, CTO John Newton notes that Alfresco “needed a more liberally-licensed process engine”. What he doesn’t say is that one reason the company needs a more liberally-licensed process engine is due to concerns from potential OEM customers about reciprocal licensing.

Even after Alfresco moved to the LGPL earlier this year it seems that is still an issue. As John noted at the time: “we currently have two main LGPL components – Hibernate for database access and JBPM for workflow – which prevent us from going to something like Apache or BSD licenses. However, this is something we may consider changing in the future.”

With Activiti licensed under Apache, and Alfresco also moving away from Hibernate to the Apache-licensed iBatis, that will soon not be an issue. At that point Alfresco would be in a position to license its entire Community Edition version under Apache, or another more liberal license.

This is something that I previously argued open core vendors should be considering last year. Of course it is not a simple matter. Alfresco does have skin in the ECM game.

Theoretically Alfresco could release Community Edition under the Apache License and could continue to generate revenue from the traditionally-license Enterprise Edition, as well as new complementary products and services, but that is something the company will have to think about very carefully.