Savio Rodrigues picked up the ball and ran with it, furthering the discussion on what makes a vendor an “open source vendor”. I left a few comments to Savio’s post that I thought were worth repeating here.
First off, Savio altered my definition slightly to ensure that the likes of Google and Amazon could not be considered “open source vendors”. This is what he came up with:
“An ‘open source vendor’ is one that develops, contributes to, and distributes open source licensed products, which are integral to driving its revenue.”
Which I think does a good job, although as Savio notes:
“The problem with this definition is how it applies to companies such as IBM, HP, and Accenture. They all contribute to and distribute Linux and other open source in order to generate revenue from servers or implementation services. As such, they would be considered “open source vendors” by my definition.”
As I commented, The discussion around The five stages of community open source engagement considered the fact that different business units within the same company can exhibit different attitudes to open source.
Consider Actuate and its BIRT business, which is a small but growing business based around the Eclipse BIRT project ($15.4m in 2008, compared to $131m for the company as a whole).
We will see more and more companies taking this approach to open source I believe. Progress and its FUSE business is another.
I wouldn’t consider Actuate or Progress (or IBM or HP) to be “open source vendors” so there’s a line to be drawn somewhere.
Perhaps the definition needs to be refined to take that into account, although I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to decide to draw that line (except for my own purposes).
Carlo Daffara, who has been at the forefront in terms of examining open source business strategies, commented:
“We used a very similar one for our work in classification of business models. We set an (approximate) threshold on 33% of revenues from OSS-related activities, as in our informal experiments with clustering around revenues we found that was the ‘barrier’ across groups (the light-OSS companies like IBM or HP) and the OSS-based companies (like Alfresco, Actuate, etc.)”
As Carlo admits, however, “having a strict number as a barrier is problematic given obtaining realistic data on percentage of revenue is quite difficult.”
Meanwhile Andrew Lampitt asked whether this wasn’t just a re-hash of the “Is Obama black enough debate” referenced by Shaun Connolly in relation to the debate over types of open source community.
To which I would have to admit that yes, defining what constitutes an “open source vendor” is mostly an academic exercise that it of interest to only a few people. I have to do this sometimes to define the vendors that we cover in some of our reports, while others are trying to do it to meet their own commercial ends.
On our recent podcast Raven commented that a strict definition was not necessarily a good thing, echoing Shaun’s perspective that “Like the software these communities produce, the definition of community needs the chance to evolve and change in ways that we can’t even imagine.”
I was reminded of the phrase “you can’t be a little bit pregnant”. Can you be “a little bit open source”? Some would say no. I believe you can, and that there are degrees of openness with OpenNMS at one end and Microsoft at the other and Hyperic and Actuate and IBM somewhere in between.