Blender, which makes 3D animations, started in 1995 as an internal programming project in the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo. It replaced the animation program previously used by NeoGeo, which originally had also been developed for internal use.
The average computer user sees Microsoft and other manufacturers of finished programs as the embodiment of software production, but in reality most of the worlds' programmers work on internal programs for specific companies, such as Blender. Programmers work everywhere and anywhere, from banks and insurance companies to film studios, because the programs needed by such businesses aren't always available "off the peg'.
Because Blender was such a brilliant program, its creator Ton Roosendaal decided to externalize the development of it to a separate company called Not a Number. The idea was for NaN to sell licences to Blender for other animation studios to use and get revenue from the consultation services surrounding it. The new Blender software was presented at the Siggraph animation conference, where it immediately awakened a lot of interest. The company was then able to raise a total of â‚¬4.5 million from venture capitalists and soon had 50 full-time programmers working on Blender. The first version - known as version 2.0 - was released in the summer of 2000 and by the end of the year Blender had 250,000 registered users.
Unfortunately, something went wrong and the capital was spent before the project was properly up and running. In April, new investors had put their weight behind Blender and the development was continued by a reborn but considerably smaller NaN. Six months later this new NaN company released Blender Publisher, which was designed to do the in thing, i.e., create three-dimensional interactive media on the Web. However, the sales figures for the product were a disappointment and the second lot of investors also decided to pull out. The company quit all operations and development of Blender was discontinued.
Although Blender hadn't conquered the world, it already had a loyal user base. Encouraged by the feedback from these users, Ton Roosendaal tried a third time to save Blender, and this rescue operation did work.
Ton founded the Blender Foundation and made a deal with the investors who owned the rights to Blender. The investors agreed to sell Blender to the Foundation for â‚¬100,000 under the GPL licence, thus enabling the Foundation to keep developing the software according to the principles of Open Source.
For venture capitalists who have lost several million, the offer of â‚¬100,000 is naturally better than nothing. And the deal didn't involve Ton in any risk either - but how would he raise the â‚¬100,000?
To his own surprise and that of all the other people who had been involved in Blender, Ton and the other former employees of NaN managed to raise the money in a mere seven weeks! On Sunday 13 October, 2002, Blender was turned over, under GPL licence, to the caring hands of the Open Source community.
As an Open Source program, Blender once more came to life. There have already been several new versions. The number of users is increasing and a whole community is growing up around the software. Thousands of users chat on Blender's website and on IRC. Images and short films made using Blender can be viewed, and admired, via the many links on the Blender website. The program can also be used to make games and some Open Source games have already been built around the software's games engine.
Financially, the makers of Blender have also moved from the traditional venture capitalist model to Open Source financing. For the Blender Foundation's fundraiser in 2003, some 3,000 copies of the new Blender guide were sold. At the beginning of 2004 the Foundation received research and development grants from the EU to the tune of â‚¬140,000. Thanks to this funding, both large and small, together with numerous hackers volunteering for the project, Blender's future looks brighter than ever.
Verdict: Through citing several examples, this section of the book has considered whether or not it is possible to build a viable business on the Open Source development model. Despite the number of examples, you may remain not yet wholly convinced; or perhaps you're thinking that, along with the closed development model, Open Source may be a model that is "OK', a model that "does work'. However, the story of Blender turns the tables on that question. What is wrong with the closed and venture capitalism based "traditional' programming development, which twice failed with Blender and nearly killed off a great product? After all, this product had a brilliant future ahead of it - but not until the right business model was found!