Define ‘free software vendor’

George Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, has written an interesting post on the topic of defining what it means to be a Free Software vendor, furthering the conversation on business strategies related to free and open source software.

I have recently posted about defining what constitutes an “open source vendor” for our reports. It is a complex problem that highlights philosophical and strategic differences between approaches to open source.

The issue, as it relates to Free Software, is less complex. As George writes: “The critical differentiator is provision of Free Software downstream to customers. In other words: Free Software companies are companies that have adopted business models in which the revenue streams are not tied to proprietary software model licensing conditions.”

In coming to this conclusion George discusses the importance of considering a vendor’s strategy in relation to three aspects: the software model, the development model, and the business model.

Interestingly this is very similar to the approach we took when assessing vendor strategies as part of Open Source is Not a Business Model, where we examined the development, vendor licensing and revenue generation strategies.

It would appear at first glance that our “vendor licensing” category is similar to George’s “software model” in that it relates to the control placed on the software by licensing rights.

George also seems to be in agreement with the way in which we used our three categories to calculate that there are hundreds of potential business model combinations:

“It should be noted that the overlap of possible business models on top of the different software models is much larger than usually understood,” he writes. “The number of possible combinations is almost endless, and the choices made will determine the individual character and competitive strengths and weaknesses of each company. Thinking clearly about these parameters is key to a successful business strategy.”

I wrote last May that there appeared “to be a strengthening commitment in some quarters to the ideals of the Free Software Foundation in rejection of the commercial opportunities provided by the Open Source Initiative.”

UPDATE – I didn’t phrase that last sentence very well. What I meant was that people (and companies) that consider themselves “open source” rather than “Free” are more inclined towards proprietary licensing as a means to generate revenue from open source software since they don’t necessarily share the Free Software philosophy that all software should be free – UPDATE.

I wonder if we will see more vendors flying the Free software flag, rather than attempting to wrestle ownership of the term “open source” from those with a penchant for proprietary licenses.

In the meantime George is promising “to show how differentiators used by Free Software companies can be as strong as those of proprietary companies” in a later post. Should be worth a read.

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#1 Is NXS a free software company? : northxsouth : free software news from latin america on 03.16.09 at 7:37 pm

[…] reason this story is relevant is that it leads into another blog post by Matthew Aslett of The 451 Group, in which he tackles a wholly different description: a “Free Software […]