The reason we are confident that the comparative decline in the use of the GNU GPL family of licenses and the increasing significance of complementary vendors in relation to funding for open source software-related vendors will continue is due to the analysis of our database of more than 400 open source software-related vendors, past and present.
We previously used the database to analyze the engagement of vendors with open source projects for our Control and Community report, plotting the strategies used by the vendors against the year in which they first began to engage with open source projects to get an approximate view of open source-related strategy changes over time.
For example, we found that the engagement of vendors with projects that used strong copyleft licenses peaked in 2006, while the engagement of vendors with projects using non-copyleft licenses had been rising steadily since 2002.
Analysis of our updated database shows that the the number of new vendors engaging with open source projects in each year has risen steadily in recent years, from 26 in 2008 to 44 in 2011. However, as noted last week, we have also seen a shift towards ‘complementary vendors’ – those that are dependent on open source software to build their products and services, even though those products and services may not themselves be open source.
2010 was the first year in which we saw more complementary vendors engage with open source projects than open source specialist, and that trend accelerated in 2011.
As previously explained, complementary vendors were responsible for over 30% of open source software-related funding raised in 2011, and we should expect that proportion to remain high given that over 57% of the vendors engaging with open source in 2011 were complementary vendors.
We have also seen that complementary vendors are more likely to engage with projects with non-copyleft licenses (38% of complementary vendors have engaged with projects with non-copyleft licenses, compared to 24% that have engaged with projects with strong copyleft licenses).
If we look at all 400+ vendors in our database in terms of open source software license preference, the trend towards new vendors engaging with non-copyleft licenses is clear.
There has been a strong shift from vendors towards non-copyleft licenses in recent years, accelerated in 2011 by the likes of Apache Hadoop and OpenStack in particular. This does not mean that the number of projects using strong copyleft licensing has decreased (although as we previously saw the proportion of projects using the GPL family of licenses has declined).
It is indicative, we believe, of the shift away from specialist open source vendors using vendor-led projects and strong copyleft licenses towards multi-vendor collaborative projects and proprietary implementations of open source code, however.
This trend should not really surprise anyone. For some time we have seen open source becoming part of the fabric of modern software development and licensing strategies, rather than a competitive differentiator. Back in 2009 we predicted the increased importance of business strategies that relied on vendor-led development communities, rather than projects dominated by a single vendor.
We called this “open source 4.0” and later suggested that it might be considered the golden age of open source, based on our belief that vendors had learned that they stand to gain more from collaborating on open source projects and differentiating at another stage in the software stack than they do from attempting to control open source projects.
Updating the results of our analysis to the end of 2011 and 400+ vendors indicates that, from the perspective of the commercial adoption of open source business strategies at least, we were not far off.
Some might not consider the proliferation of multi-vendor open source communities and proprietary distributions of open source software as the peak of achievement for open source. Each is of course entitled to come to their own conclusions about the implications.
Our perspective, as always, is that open source methodologies present a potentially disruptive, and also valuable, asset that complements the way both vendors and enterprise IT organizations conduct their businesses.
Our analysis indicates, however, that open source methodologies are increasingly being employed by ‘complementary vendors’ with a leaning towards more permissive licensing.