Summary: With people like Simon Phipps in its house, the OSI regains credibility
Open core, Open core, more Open core… the debate goes on and on, with Monty the latest to weigh in.
When you get down to it this is a fight over branding – which is why the issue is so important to the OSI folks (who are all about the brand). I don’t actually care that much how SugarCRM, Jahia, Alfresco et al make the software they sell to their customers. As a customer I’m asking a whole different set of questions to “is this product open source?” I want to know how good the service and support is, how good the product is, and above all, does it solve the problem I have at a price point I’m comfortable with. The license doesn’t enter into consideration.
So if that’s the case (and I believe it is), why the fighting? Because of the Open Source brand, and all the warm-and-fuzzies that procures. “Open solutions” are the flavour of the decade, and as a small ISV building a global brand, being known as Open Source is a positive marketing attribute. The only problem is that the warm-and-fuzzies implied by Open source – freedom to change supplier or improve the software, freedom to try the software before purchasing, the existence of a diverse community of people with knowledge, skills and willingness to help a user in difficulty – don’s exist in the Open Core world. The problem is that for the most part, the Open Core which you can obtain under the OSI-approved license is not that useful.
Yesterday on Twitter, I said “Open Core is annoying because the “open core” bit is pretty much useless. It doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin.”
Recently, there has been debate in the press about “Open Core”. I don’t care to debate the minor points but make a simple declaration:
* “Open Core” has NOTHING to do with “Open Source”. Nearly all proprietary software, at this point, has various degrees of open source-licensed source code in its core.
* “Open Core” has none of the advantages of open source to the user and is merely a proprietary software company.
* “Open Core” puts the software user at a disadvantage in the same way that all proprietary software puts the user at a disadvantage.
While their marketing guy may claim “that overall, Sugar 6 is an open source product from an open source company”, it’s hard to see how they are anything other than a proprietary software company who share some code with a related open source project. Claiming to be “an open source company” seems an unacceptable use of the open source brand to me.
Once more there is a lot of heated discussion about what constitutes a “real” open source business model – that is, one that remains true to the spirit of open source, and doesn’t just use it as a trendy badge to attract customers. But such business models address only a tiny part of running a company – how it generates money. What about the many other aspects of a firm?
Imagine a world where code used by the biggest clouds is freely available to any developer, anywhere. A world where that code was a standard used to build private clouds as well as a variety of new service offers. In this world, workloads could be moved around these clouds easily – you could fire your cloud provider for bad service or lack of features, but not have to rewrite the software to do it. Imagine an open source cloud operating system that lifts IT to the next level of innovation, just as Linux drove the web to new heights.
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NASA is dropping Eucalyptus from its Nebula infrastructure cloud not only because its engineers believe the open source platform can’t achieve the sort of scale they require, but also because it isn’t entirely open source.
NASA chief technology officer Chris Kemp tells The Reg that as his engineers attempted to contribute additional Eucalyptus code to improve its ability to scale, they were unable to do so because some of the platform’s code is open and some isn’t. Their attempted contributions conflicted with code that was only available in a partially closed version of platform maintained by Eucalyptus Systems Inc., the commercial outfit run by the project’s founders.
I was surprised to see that Larry Augustin had posted to his blog, since he does that pretty infrequently, so I assume all of the questioning about whether or not SugarCRM is open source is hitting close to home. Not as bad as a flawed cell phone antenna design, but I guess bad enough.
While his post is very heartfelt, it is full of misdirection about the meaning of the term “open source”. He refers to the word “open” a lot, but “open” and “open source” are two different things. Heck, one of the most popular network management product suites of all time was called OpenView, but the “open” in the name had nothing to do with open source software.
I’ve been staying out of the recent resurgence in the “open core” debate (check out the 451 Group for a summary). If these fauxpen source vendors would simply call their product “open core” versus “open source” there wouldn’t be anything to talk about, but they need to market themselves as “open source” as opposed to “just another commercial software company with a great API” to get any traction.