Out of control

I recently suggested that open core vendors should consider releasing the source code for their core open source project under a more permissive license, or better still via an existing community/foundation.

The idea has been the subject of some interesting conversation on Twitter this week, not least since Sun’s Simpn Phipps asked the very pertinent question “But if your strategy is open core, why would you do that?”

As I’d previously noted, the main reason for making this step would be “in order to benefit from and encourage a collaborative development community” – something that is often (although not always) lacking from vendor-controlled open source development projects.

Matt Asay also came up with a nice summary of why this move might make sense this week when he noted that “vendors that have proprietary selling points elsewhere don’t need to control open-source code.”

In fact I would go so far as to say that vendors that have proprietary selling points elsewhere are wasting resources and energy trying to control open source code. The argument in favour of control is that it enables the vendor to drive the development direction of a project and reduce the potential for forking.

This is a very glass-half-empty view of open source development, however. Wouldn’t it be better to take the glass-half-full view that a true open source community adds more value in terms of expanding the ecosystem and potential uses for the code?

If the open source core has value it will attract a true community that will expand its development, with the ongoing contribution of the original vendor of course, while if the proprietary extensions are valuable enough the original vendor ought to be able to compete with proprietary rivals even if they are using the same code to build rival products.

Of course, giving up control of a project is easier said than done, and as Daniel Chalef noted “With investors interested in IP ownership & governance, giving up control can be challenging to do”.

It is often said that one of the reasons that the open core model has proved popular in recent years is that it is the chosen open source monetization strategy of venture capital investors. Our survey of VCs as part of our Open to Investment report appeared to back that theory up.

We also asked investors to choose from between five different licensing strategies for an imaginary startup. 19.7% said they would be more inclined to invest in a vendor mixing open source and proprietary licensed software and 6.6% chose a vendor with 100% proprietary licensing. Not one investor was more likely to invest in a vendor with 100% open source licensing.

However VCs have invested in vendors that do not control the open source code they are monetizing (the various Linux distributors, EnterpriseDB, OpenLogic and Acquia spring to mind) and there are investors out there that really understand that open source can provide a development benefit, rather than simply acting as a market disruptor. The issue in this context would be to convince investors that there is more value in giving up control of the development of the open core than there is in controlling it.

Conceptually this is not that different from persuading investors in a proprietary company to open up the source code to a particular project in order to fuel interest in proprietary products – in fact it ought to be easier given that the code is already open source. In that context it was interesting to see JetBrains announce the open source Community Edition of its Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA this week.

In particular it was interesting to see that JetBrains chose the Apache license. This is not the same thing as handing the code over to the Apache community, to be sure, but it does demonstrate an acceptance that trying to control what others can do with the code is not necessarily in the best interests of JetBrains and its Ultimate Edition customers.

JetBrains has the confidence to do this because it retains the profile of the IntelliJ company as well as the proprietary Ultimate Edition, which will continue to be the revenue generation vehicle.

We have previously discussed the theory that the GPL is a better licensing choice than a more permissive license such as the BSD license for vendors establishing commercial dominance around an open source project.

That remains true today. What I now believe is that for vendors that have used the GPL to control a project and establish commercial dominance with proprietary extensions, a more permissive license is likely to act as a better method of expanding the development opportunities for that underlying project as well as the commercial opportunities for those proprietary extensions.

In other words, control will only get you so far in terms of exploiting open source as a distribution mechanism. To get the full benefits of open source as a development model, you have to be prepared to get out of control.

See also:

  • Carlo Daffara’s argument that COMmunity+COMpany is a winning COMbination.
  • Savio Rodrigues’s disagrees via “With open core, the question is when to give up control.”
  • Sandro Groganz’s response: “At the Edge of Open Source Communities and Companies”.
  • Bradley M. Kuhn’s discussion on licensing, community and venture capital in “Open core is the new shareware”
  • Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    14 comments ↓

    #1 Twitter Trackbacks for 451 CAOS Theory » Out of control [the451group.com] on Topsy.com on 10.16.09 at 9:08 am

    […] 451 CAOS Theory » Out of control blogs.the451group.com/opensource/2009/10/16/out-of-control – view page – cached An open source blog by The 451 Group. — From the page […]

    #2 With open core, the question is when to give up control « rand($thoughts); on 10.16.09 at 11:50 am

    […] Source | Leave a Comment  Matt Aslett writes an interesting follow up to his suggestion that open core vendors give up control over the “core” of their product offering. Matt writes: “…open core vendors […]

    #3 At the Edge of Open Source Communities and Companies (by Sandro Groganz, Open Source Marketing Consultant) on 10.16.09 at 12:32 pm

    […] Aslett has made his stance on a discussion that started on Twitter about Open Source vendors giving away control to their community with the goal of better monetization. I concur with Savio Rodriguez’s doubts, but I believe that it is an issue worth while to be […]

    #4 451 CAOS Theory » Out of control | Open Hacking on 10.16.09 at 4:30 pm

    […] more from the original source:  451 CAOS Theory » Out of control This entry was posted on Friday, October 16th, 2009 at 8:47 am and is filed under Linux, News, […]

    #5 Links 16/10/2009: Asterisk Gets IBM Support, OpenOffice.org 3.2 Beta Released, Uruguay Students All to Use GNU/Linux | Boycott Novell on 10.16.09 at 8:16 pm

    […] Out of control We have previously discussed the theory that the GPL is a better licensing choice than a more permissive license such as the BSD license for vendors establishing commercial dominance around an open source project. […]

    #6 When to give up control of an open source core | Open Source Blog on 10.17.09 at 1:05 am

    […] Aslett writes an interesting follow-up to his suggestion that open core vendors give up control over the “core” of their product offering. Matt writes: …open core vendors should […]

    #7 Bradley M. Kuhn on 10.17.09 at 10:40 am

    I agree with most of Aslett’s points here, but I don’t think this is actually a GPL vs. permissively licensed debate, but rather one regarding the type of community that gathers around a particular codebase. I’ve written a full blog post about the issue.

    #8 451 CAOS Theory » Losing control on 10.21.09 at 12:46 am

    […] control Matthew Aslett, October 21, 2009 @ 12:46 am ET There was some rapid reaction to my post arguing why open core vendors should consider opening up their core code, either under a more […]

    #9 About Open Source Value Creation and Consumption on 11.19.09 at 11:13 am

    […] Giving up control has been issue at Day Software? I think everybody agrees that open source is about community or call it eco-system. Where other vendors try to find a compromise between different licensing options, we believe in participating in a true, vendor neutral, non-profit organization and ingesting the commodity code of our commercial software into a meritocratic structure that allows our code to grow beyond the body of our commercial entity. […]

    #10 451 CAOS Theory » The thinking behind JetBrains’ open source strategy on 01.07.10 at 6:49 am

    […] could have made use of the GPL and the vendor-controlled open core licensing model. We previously noted that the choice of Apache was significant. It indicates that the company is prepared to trade […]

    #11 451 CAOS Theory » Don’t fear the reaper. Why FOSS should not fear M&A by proprietary vendors on 01.08.10 at 5:38 am

    […] previously discussed, Matt Asay noted last year that “vendors that have proprietary selling points elsewhere don’t […]

    #12 451 CAOS Theory » Alfresco’s new Activiti en route to Apache on 05.26.10 at 7:01 pm

    […] is something that I previously argued open core vendors should be considering last year. Of course it is not a simple matter. Alfresco […]

    #13 451 CAOS Theory » What SpringSource dm Server licensing tells us about control versus community on 01.04.11 at 7:14 am

    […] options for the future of Open-Core licensing The rejuvenation of community-controlled open source Out of control Losing control Permalink | Technorati Links | Bookmark on del.icio.us | digg it Comments (5) […]

    #14 451 CAOS Theory » The golden age of open source? on 01.06.11 at 9:55 am

    […] is in the context of open source 4.0 that we also argued that open core vendors should consider releasing the source code for their core open source project […]