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SmartBear acquires Cucumber to bolster its testing tool set

SmartBear adds Cucumber's behavior-driven development tools in a bid to pad its lead in software testing, but must also balance the needs of open source and paid tool audiences.

SmartBear's acquisition of Cucumber aims to strengthen the firm's position in the software quality tools market, and it represents another example of how vendors must address both commercial and open source audiences.

Cucumber Ltd. makes the Cucumber behavior-driven development (BDD) and open source test automation framework. SmartBear, based in Somerville, Mass., already has a BDD product, HipTest, which it acquired last year. The addition of Cucumber, based in Cairndow, Scotland, strengthens the SmartBear portfolio and doubles down on the company's commitment to open source.

BDD is an Agile software development methodology that aims to reduce common wasteful activities in software development, such as rework caused by misunderstood or vague requirements, or slow feedback cycles caused by silos and hand-overs, according to the Cucumber team.

SmartBear will combine Cucumber's commercial BDD product, Jam, with the HipTest collaboration platform and will develop a joint product roadmap, said Ryan Lloyd, vice president of products at SmartBear. The Cucumber Jam team will join SmartBear's HipTest team to build collaboration tools in the BDD and testing space, said Aslak Hellesoy, the founder of the Cucumber project, in a blog post.

Meanwhile, Cucumber will dedicate two to three people full time to the Cucumber open source product, with backup support from SmartBear and unspecified "additional investment," which will bring a "huge productivity boost," Hellesoy said.

Balancing commercial vs. open source tools

SmartBear intends to enhance HipTest with Cucumber to improve acceptance criteria, document generation and test execution, and ultimately improve collaborative efforts among Agile teams, said Theresa Lanowitz, an analyst at Voke in Minden, Nev. "SmartBear is showing that requirements, collaboration and testing matter in the software engineering lifecycle," she said.

SmartBear is showing that requirements, collaboration and testing matter in the software engineering lifecycle.
Theresa LanowitzAnalyst, Voke

For SmartBear, the Cucumber deal also reflects its desire to be seen as pro-open source and connected to DevOps-oriented test practices, said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Gartner. However, "they have an investment into BDD already with HipTest, so I don't know specifically what this does for them strategy-wise," he added.

This acquisition is reminiscent of SmartBear's acquisition of Eviware in 2011 for its SoapUI and SoapUI Pro testing tools, Murphy said. SoapUI is an open source API and web services testing tool, and SoapUI Pro is the commercial version of the technology.

Most companies that try to build a commercial model on top of their open source component tend to struggle, Murphy said. Either they create open source software that isn't as good as other options, or it is good enough to satisfy most users' needs, and the vendor can't establish a strong enough market for the value-added paid version.

Some companies have exploited open source and built a solid commercial market -- Red Hat, GitHub and GitLab, to name a few. Other times, a larger commercial entity gobbles up open source projects with mixed results.

"Think about anytime Oracle buys something that is open source. What happens? The open source forks, and people go a different direction," Murphy said.

Indeed, when Microsoft bought GitHub last year for $7.5 billion, there was lots of concern about what it would do with the open source technology. However, Microsoft quickly made private repos free for small teams, which quelled some of the concern. The company also had established a strong track record of donating to and supporting open source.

SmartBear falls into the middle space between big companies that exploit open source and the small fry, Murphy said.

"Certainly they are not the size of an 'evil empire,' like Microsoft or Oracle," he said. "But I would say that we have seen a lot of shift from SoapUI to Postman," an open source API testing tool from Postman Inc. in San Francisco, which also offers commercial versions of the software.

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