Shaking Off Defensive Image, Black Duck Aims to Accelerate Software Development with Open Source

3/17/09Follow @wroush

When I first wrote about Black Duck Software about five years ago (pre-Xconomy), the company was pitching its open-source code tracking system as a protective measure. Many software companies wanted to incorporate open-source code into their products—why reinvent an e-commerce module for taking credit card numbers, for instance, if there’s already a perfectly good open-source one?—but they were scared of exposing themselves to the licensing and copyright hassles that sometimes came along with using open source.

Black Duck tried to put companies at ease by developing a system that let software engineers compare their works-in-progress to a large database of open-source programs. If a match was found, that could be a sign that the developers would have to comply with the specific license governing the reused code—or it could mean that complying wasn’t worth the hassle, and that it would be easier to develop the component from scratch.

These days, things are a bit different. Companies can’t afford not to use open-source components in new business or consumer applications, given that it’s so much more economical than starting over. So now it’s more a question of figuring out which components are best—and then making sure they’re safely reusable. As a result, Waltham, MA-based Black Duck has had to recast and expand its business.

Tim YeatonA few weeks ago, shortly after the company announced the closing of a $9.5 million Series D venture round, I spoke with Black Duck’s new CEO, Tim Yeaton, who says the company’s new identity is about “driving the acceleration of software development in general by enabling companies to fully exploit the economics and the capabilities of open source.” That means not just ensuring licensing compliance, but actually helping developers find components that could speed up their projects—something that’s easier to do when you own a database of more than 200,000 open-source software projects totaling tens of billions of lines of code.

The first time I spoke with Yeaton, back in November 2007, he was still chief marketing officer at EqualLogic, the Nashua, NH, network storage device maker that had just been purchased by Dell for a stunning $1.4 billion in cash. I don’t know whether Black Duck’s board was hoping for a similarly spectacular exit when they named Yeaton CEO back on February 10—but he does have a bullish outlook on the future of open source components in software development.

“The open, collaborative model and the things it’s created have fundamentally and irreversibly changed how software gets built,” says Yeaton. “Individual developers have already figured this out—they are far more productive when there are technologies out there that they can use and not reinvent the wheel. The opportunity for Black Duck is that when you are a company trying to take advantage of the wealth of open source and intermix it with your internally developed code, that introduces a lot of complexity that most companies haven’t found a way to manage.”

Black Duck’s core product, Code Center, is all about managing that complexity. Introduced in January 2008, the software includes a catalog of open source code pre-approved for reuse, along with search tools for finding just the right bit of code for the problem at hand. Code Center can also … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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