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Commercial Add Ons to Open Source Software: aheadWorks and Magento

Here’s an open source business model that’s creeping up on us:  Selling add-ons to open source  software.    For under $100, you can buy predesigned themes, reports, and feature enhancements for a number of open source projects, including WordPress, Joomla!, and Magento.   Is there a viable business here? To find out, I recently chatted with Eugene Popovsky, one of the owners of aheadWorks, which makes several of the most popular Magento add-ons. Here’s what he told me:

What made you decide to create these add-on modules for Magento?
We have a great experience in ecommerce as we’ve have been working ecommerce systems since 2003. One year ago, we decided to extend our business with one more ecommerce system and considered Magento mainly because of three advantages: modern, free and very promising.

What are the technical strengths and weaknesses in Magento for developers of add-on modules?
We consider Magento’s flexibility the main strength and weakness of this open source platform. Almost any feature of Magento can be customized. Moreover, all the changes are undertaken without transforming the Magento code, what allows to overcome any errors while Magento versions upgrading. At the same such changes can result in unexpected solutions hampering further development.

Are the open source users of Magento happy to pay for add-on modules?
Ecommerce is business first of all. It requires the same investments as any other business whether online or traditional. People understand it and are not afraid to invest money as they know that all the expenses will be covered.

Have you found other open source developers to be competitors of your add-on modules?
aheadWorks extensions and development group is the most active in Magento world and we are proud of this fact. We are working hard to fulfill the ecommerce needs of our clients and we are happy that Magento-based store owners do appreciate it. But it is business and competition is typical. There are many developers who are doing the same work and all of them are anyhow our competitors.

Is the commercial (enterprise) version of Magento a competitor to developers of add-on modules like yourself?
All aheadWorks extensions are compatible with Magento Enterprise and can be set up for online stores based on the commercial version of Magento as effectively as for free. That’s why Magento Enterprise is rather our partner than a competitor.

Do you synchronize your product development plans with Varien (the Magento company)?
It is obvious that our work greatly depends on the plans of Varien but all our developments are independent. We always rely on ourselves only.

What recommendations do you have for other developers who might want to create commercial add-ons to open source software? What kind of platforms and applications are good (not so good) for commercial add-ons?

We believe that every web developer should be able to research problems, adapt to new technologies rapidly and have experience in frameworks. As our work is based on Linux, Apache, PHP and MySQL, we consider the knowledge of these open-source technologies are of primary importance in developing add-ons – both commercial and free.

Thanks, Eugene!

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Si Chen is the founder of Open Source Strategies, Inc. and Project Manager for opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM (www.opentaps.org).

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