Twitscan: The Debate over "Open Core"

twitter-scan-small.pngHang on readership, we're trying out a new idea   Twitscan. Many of the conversations that matter in technology are happening in and around Twitter. Some of these stories will include twitter exchanges, others will just follow a thread of responses and point you to some interesting individuals and conversations that are happening, right now in the "Twitvironment".

The Open Core Debate

Today's Twitter topic is the debate over what the Open Source community has decided to call the "Open Core" model. This model is characterized by a company (or collection of companies) which provide support and commercial add-ons to an open source core. It has been a model that has been around for a few years, but it has only recently been defined. Here's a definition from Andrew Lampitt from last August:

So I propose the following for the OCL business model:
  • - core is GPL: if you embed the GPL in closed source, you pay a fee
  • - technical support of GPL product may be offered for a fee (up for debate as to whether it must be offered)
  • - annual commercial subscription includes: indemnity, technical support, and additional features and/or platform support. (Additional commercial features having viewable or closed source, becoming GPL after timebomb period are both up for debate).
  • - professional services and training are for a fee

Tarus Balog (@MouthOfOpenNMS) threw down the gauntlet when he wrote about Open Core in "More Open Core Silliness":

"Open core software is a fad. I have no doubt that it will make some individuals wealthy, but pure open source is catching up and will eventually disrupt both the pure proprietary and open core proprietary software business models."

The Puppet-master, Luke Kaines (@puppetmasterd) wrote a piece that provoked some reaction. In "The Most Free(tm) Way to Make Money from Open Source", he defends what he calls "open-core licensing" from others who are calling the open-core licensing approach a fad:

the reason that Reductive Labs is considering producing commercial software is that we can't afford to produce much more software unless someone pays for the development, and at this point, we have a thriving, healthy community that largely gets huge benefit from Puppet without ever needing help from us. So, our options are to grow so slowly that all of the interesting opportunities pass us by, or to start producing software that allows us to, at the least, recoup our development costs.

...from Matt Asay (@mjasay) at CNet writing in "Time for open source to loosen up":

"we need to spend less time fetishing open-source politics over customer pragmatism. We should be a lot less Richard Stallman, in other words, and much more Eric Raymond/Open Source Initiative." Jason van Zyl (@jvanzyl) at Sonatype who writes that the open-core approach can only work when the "core" is truly "open". In "So, How Open is Your Open Source Company Amnyway?", he specifically addresses the charge that Open Core products are somehow "crippled":

"We have a modular platform where the commercial features are a clear superset of the Nexus core. We have no special branches for the Nexus core for the commercial version. All of our QA and testing for the core happen in the open. Our commercial SCM contains nothing but plug-ins and our build simply drops those plug-ins into the core structure where they detected on startup and activated...We have no additional code for the core in the commercial version of Nexus. We don't need to. We are still working through our APIs but users in the community have already contributed plug-ins (the first was a plugin to integrate Nexus with Atlassian's Crowd product) and everyone will be able to extend Nexus in the same way Sonatype does. That does mean we have to make sure that we provide a lot of value in the commercial version and that's fine with us." Brian Gentile (@jaspersoft), CEO of Jaspersoft, who writes:

"The pure open source model will continue to democratize software development and yield some commercial success. But to truly disrupt software categories where proprietary vendors dominate (and to deliver large new leaps in customer value), the open core model currently stands alone in its opportunity to deliver community progress and commercial success. "

SHAMELESS PLUG: To hear more from other executives trying to sort out the murky boundary between open source and business, register for OSCON 2009. I think the Open Core debate should be at the top of the agenda for this year's OSCON. OSCON is in San Jose this year July 20-24 - Register Today

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1 Comment

Am I taking it too far to say that open-core is not simply limited to be the a potential commercial open source standard. I believe it will become the default commercial software model standard in general. I elaborate on my blog:

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