SpikeSource on Friday announced a service aimed at letting smaller software makers automatically test their products for particular software stacks, potentially opening up significant opportunities for software start-ups and open source developers.

The hosted service is based on a platform called Solutions Factory, and includes testing, packaging, certification and updates.

The software involved can be open source, proprietary or hybrid, taking SpikeSource a step beyond its strictly open source roots.

The appeal for smaller independent software vendors (ISVs) is the confidence they can instill in potential customers through such a certification programme, and the association it brings with well-known brands, SpikeSource said.

The service is also intended to reduce the time and expense of bringing products to market, as well as reducing support costs.

The platform enables "ISVs to bring to market whole product solutions that are vertically certified for the entire solution stack, including the application, operating system and underlying hardware," said SpikeSource chief executive Kim Polese, in a statement.

The platform also links to SpikeNet, a network delivering software updates and maintenance.

SpikeSource, which launched two years ago, has gradually refined its focus. The company started off with an emphasis on open source stack integration, testing and support, as a way of making it easier for companies to buy into open source.

More recently the company has concentrated its testing and pre-packaging efforts on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), making it easier for them to integrate open source into their existing infrastructures. Companies such as OpenLogic also develop pre-packaged open source stacks.

The latest move broadens the options for software makers, offering a variety of testing techniques before certification.

ISVs can also access pre-tested components as well as entire pre-configured stacks in building their products.

SpikeSource is also working with big technology vendors, beginning with Intel, to create customised testing and certification environments for particular hardware or software platforms.

At the Intel Developer Forum in Singapore this week, Intel announced SpikeSource would begin offering the first such customised testing and validation service for Intel software partners.

Such services are intended to encourage software makers, particularly smaller ISVs with more limited resources, to integrate big companies' new technologies, while keeping quality standards high.

Intel Capital, one of SpikeSource's original investors in 2005, invested another $10m as part of its ongoing involvement with SpikeSource and its testing programmes. The company also got funding from several other existing vendors.

Intel and SpikeSource are initially offering the service on a limited basis, with broader availability expected for later this year.