Global rival unsettles Perth software developer

18/04/2012 - 10:09

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UNCERTAIN: Martin Dougiamas says his company is in a very shaky place because of the unknowns it faces. Photo: Grant Currall

A Perth company that has become a global leader in the education software market is facing uncertain times as main rival Blackboard takes over two of its biggest partners.

Moodle develops online course management software based on open source – providing the software free of charge.

There are about 70,000 known sites worldwide using Moodle and include Ming Chuan University in Taiwan, the Technological University of Chile, Challenger Institute of Technology, La Trobe University and the University of Western Australia, which switched to Moodle this year.

The company’s revenue is dependent on a percentage of earnings made by its approximate 50 world-wide ‘partners’ that provide services and support to clients using Moodle.

Two of those partners, Adelaide-based Moodlerooms and Netspot, have now been bought out by Moodle global rival Blackboard, which develops similar software but on a paid basis.

Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas said the transaction had made the open-source community uneasy as Blackboard had a history of acquiring smaller companies.

Mr Dougiamas said the acquisition meant it would be easier for a Netspot or Moodlerooms client to be persuaded by Blackboard to move to its paid-for software.

 “We’re in a very shaky place at the moment, mostly because of the unknowns,” Mr Dougiamas said.

“They are a big competitor, so if at some point they say ‘well this hasn’t worked’ and just extract what assets they can out of those companies and close them down, then that would be a big hit on me, because they were two of the most significant partners.”

In announcing the acquisitions, Blackboard said both Moodlerooms and Netspot would continue to operate separately and the company as a whole was embarking on a new dedication to open source.

Mr Dougiamas said he would have to wait and see if this were the case.

Moodle had rejected a takeover offer from Blackboard in the past, but Mr Dougiamas said he did not blame Netspot and Moodlerooms for accepting the acquisition.

“They (Netspot and Moodlerooms) have done very well out of this,” he said.

“There are a lot of committed Moodle supporters in those companies and now that they’re working within Blackboard, I hope that they can try and influence the Blackboard culture.”

Mr Dougiamas said that despite the rise of Moodle use, that did not necessarily correspond with growth within the company and it had, in fact, found the environment difficult in recent years, specifically around attracting staff.

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