Since we’ve been getting philosophical on the war between open source and proprietary software, free software and open source, etc., I thought I might as well weigh in with my perspective. First, I wanted to address the matter of open core, the term that refers to a software business strategy based on proprietary pieces and licensing that is nonetheless built around open source software core components.
For a good, fresh perspective on open core without running through the baggage of the term’s definition and implications, see John Mark Walker’s latest take on open core. While we at 451 Group have remarked on a trending preference for open core models among vendors and VCs — simply reporting what we see and hear and not advocating for any business or development model or license, etc. — I’m beginning to think we may be starting to see a return to support and other services, rather than commercial code and licensing, as the preferred mode to monetize open source.
While we began 2009 indicating that there appeared to be a preference among vendors, VCs and others for open core models, John Mark sets out a good challenge in asking which open core vendor owns its market? While it may indeed be too soon to tell, Red Hat has ridden the supposedly tough economy to healthy gains recently, all on its simple model of supporting free software for fees. While we often talk about different models, it is hard to argue against one that is working in the market.
In fact, at the end of last year and beginning of this year, when we did see a prevalence of attention and strategy around open core models, we began hearing less the common phrase ‘we have a Red Hat model.’ Instead, organizations were looking to monetize enhancements, extensions and wholesale different parts of code and products on top of, alongside or as the nougat center of proprietary products. Speaking to vendors, channel players and end users today, there are signs we’re seeing a return to the ‘we’re like Red Hat’ mantra of explaining and running an open source business. Red Hat has shown an ability to sustain and grow using its model, and even when it might be questioned or prodded or advised by an analyst to change slightly or dramatically, it has stuck with its model and established itself in the S&P 500 as a major enterprise IT player in the process.
Next, I wanted to address the free software and freedom versus open source and business debate. While this is, similar to open source versus proprietary, also viewed often as a ‘war’ that must have a winner and loser, it is my fundamental belief what without freedom, the ideology of free software and organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, commercial open source would be nothing more than some big vendor’s or big consortium’s latest buzzword, campaign, strategy, etc. Conversely, without the billions and billions of dollars that vendors, channel players and others are making and the costs that customers and users are saving thanks to open source software, the ideology would most likely be relegated to academia and philosophy books. Thus, the two — that is free software and the ideology and open source software and the commercial use of it — are symbiotic.
For either side to say the other doesn’t matter or that they have won is also somewhat antithetical to the reality of the situation. The ideology matters because of the business. The business is disruptive and effective because of the ideology. In true symbiotic fashion, they need one another and make each other stronger.