Open Enterprise Interview: Tamás Bíró, Sense/Net

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Once hackers have stopped arguing whether it's “free software” or “open source”, and discussing the relative merits of GNOME or KDE, they can always get stuck into the perennial question of whether they ought to develop applications using Mono, tied as it is to Microsoft's .NET framework, or not.

One person who thinks they should, and has gone even further by helping to create a major open source enterprise application for the Windows platform, rather than GNU/Linux, is Tamás Bíró. Technical issues aside, his company Sense/Net is also unusual because it's Hungarian, still something of a novelty. Here, he talks about the challenges facing software entrepreneurs in Hungary, what made him choose to develop his enterprise content management system for .NET and Windows, and why he thinks that's actually a good thing for open source in general.

GM: What's your background? When did you first come across open source – and what did you think of it then?

TB: In the 90s I thought open source was only for techies and hobbies, now I see it as a serious business model. The sale of MySQL and other stories has proved this.

The first open source technology I was aware of was the Slackware Linux back in the 90s, but I did not think about our software going open source until 2007, when I realised that the .NET crowd also wanted open source. The proprietary closed business model was ok for the local market, but for a small business, open source is a way to go international. I spotted a niche in the .NET market and we created the first open source, enterprise grade ECMS for the .NET platform. (The first enterprise ECMS in the Java world was Alfresco).

GM: How did Sense/Net come about: how did it start, when, and why?

TB: We started out in a friend’s garage in 1995, and gradually grew to become the ECMS/Portal market leader in Hungary. Our capital was around $5000 USD back then and we did not get any funding until 2005. We began as enthusiastic University students and now we are running a professional business, with 42 staff. We deal with projects worth upwards of $100,000 and have annual revenues of $3 million. We knew from the start that the Internet was going to be big, so we wanted to create a leading web software company.

GM: What other open source startups are there in Hungary? What are the particular challenges you/they face there? What about the advantages?

TB: The Zorp firewall is quite a successful open source project, but apart from that there are very few open source companies in Hungary. When we compete with US or UK based companies, language is a disadvantage, but the biggest challenge is getting capital. So far we have solved both issues, our staff speak English well and we have had enough capital from private and EU sources. We continue working with universities to provide new ideas and motivation, and to keep our thinking fresh.

GM: What business problems is Sense/Net trying to solve?

TB: Technology that is easy to start using out of the box, rather than relying on highly qualified and knowledgeable programmers to manage content for businesses, is desirable. With Sense/Net 6.0 the latest generation of our software, launched last month, this is made possible. Companies can easily build their Internet, intranet and extranet channels, to improve internal and external communications, whilst receiving more services such as search and versioning.

GM: Why is open source a good solution for this?

TB: In virtually every ECMS project, the project team sooner or later encounters a problem that could make the project fail. With closed source, you have no other choice but to wait for the vendor to fix the bug. But what if the bug is a feature, and the vendor tells you to wait for the next version? With open source, your team can fix the bug and get on with the project with minimal delay. They can also contribute the bugfix to the code base, so no one else faces the same problem. If many teams do this, the code will be much better.

GM: Why do we need another open source enterprise content management system? Why are you better/different compared to Alfresco or Nuxeo, say?

TB: Both Alfresco and Nuxeo are for the Java platform. We are serving the .Net world, where, until now, the only ECMS option was SharePoint. If an enterprise prefers the .NET and Microsoft SQL platform, there was no real open source alternative. Sense/Net 6.0 is .Net based, and is an open source ECMS alternative.

GM: What products do you offer, and for which platforms? Which are open source?

TB: Sense/Net 6.0 is an Enterprise Portal and ECMS platform, which is 100 per cent open source. This is our one and only product, which we continuously develop and add new modules, such as new APIs, TQM module, Direct Mailing module, etc.

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