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Why you should build an open-source startup (teambox.com)
93 points by michokest on May 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments



I worked at an open source startup once. I was -shocked- to repeatedly run into the misconception that because the code was open source, anything -using- the code was open source.

I saw several potential sales get tanked because the customer had an advisor who believed that if they used open source to develop their website, they would no longer own the content. For example, a furniture company thought they would lose control of their pictures of the furniture. Another blog style site thought they would lose control of the blog posts they wrote. Literally, I am not making this up. It's like believing that Microsoft owns your document because you wrote it in Word.

No amount of discussion, examples, or logic would dissuade them. I can't imagine how this idea survives, but I saw it as recently as a month ago in a comment here on HN (which of course I can't find right now), so it's not completely isolated.

I'm not sure open source was a net win for the startup I worked at. Due to complicating some sales and assisting a few competitors, it wasn't a clean slam dunk.


Dollars to donuts, I bet its because of the GPL license. People hear about it and then extrapolate. If you're not GPL then you need to make it clear that you're not a copyleft license. If you are GPL then its trickier because you have to call out what sorts of assets and distribution mechanisms are covered.


You're contributing to the misinformation with a blatantly false statement like this. I'm not going to argue with you (again) on your misstatements about the GPL, but I did want to call it out as being obviously wrong, lest anyone read your comment and take it as somehow sensible.

The GPL provides more freedom to the end user than any commercial license, and it is deeply disingenuous to keep spreading FUD that indicates otherwise.


Tell me a single lie stated in that post.


"If you are GPL then its trickier because you have to call out what sorts of assets and distribution mechanisms are covered."

This is a straight up lie. We were discussing assets like pictures, blog posts, etc. None of these assets, distributed in any way, would ever be affected by the license of the software used to build the website on which they appear. Just like the text you edit in Word is not owned by Microsoft and the photo you edit with Photoshop is not owned by Adobe.

There is nothing tricky about the GPL (or any other Open Source license) in this context (or really in any other, since the license is extremely well-documented), and it is FUD to suggest otherwise.


This is a straight up lie. We were discussing assets like pictures, blog posts, etc. None of these assets, distributed in any way, would ever be affected by the license of the software used to build the website on which they appear.

I didn't say they were. I said you'd have to explain it. You'd have to make a distinction about code, non-code, services, shipping code, etc...

Otherwise this same company says, we can use this same code to compile with this fancy new HTML5/Javascript compiler and deploy on iPhone. The nice sales guy said that we don't need to be concerned with the GPL license. Uh oh. If only he would have spent five minutes telling us how the GPL worked. (That said, I'm not really sure what the OP's product provided, to know what other assets would be effected, if any. So this scenario is purely speculative)

My point, you do need to explain the GPL in more detail than many other open source licenses. The OP made this clear in the real world from the fact that potential customers didn't undertand it.

But I think this is the problem with the GPL movement. They're in such disbelief that people may not understand they flame anyone who takes the time to explain it.


Otherwise this same company says, we can use this same code to compile with this fancy new HTML5/Javascript compiler and deploy on iPhone. The nice sales guy said that we don't need to be concerned with the GPL license. Uh oh. If only he would have spent five minutes telling us how the GPL worked.

None of those are rights you would have with commercial software. You can't redistribute Word or Photoshop or Camtasia, and you can't bundle them up with a new UI and call it your own work and sell it on the iPhone. The GPL just happens to give you some ways to go about doing so that would have been illegal under commercial licenses. The end user has more rights under the GPL than they would under commercial licenses, generally speaking, and it is disingenuous to keep repeating FUD that says otherwise.

My point, you do need to explain the GPL in more detail than many other open source licenses. If you disagree, I say you're the liar.

We are discussing content like blog posts and photo assets. There are no discussions to be had about the license of the software used to distribute them, as it has no affect on them.

So, yes, I disagree with you, and I don't understand how you can come to your conclusions. They simply do not make sense in this context. You're making outlandish claims about the GPL that simply are not true, and defending them against all reason.

This is why I really didn't want to discuss this with you, again. You clearly have a bone to pick with the GPL that makes no sense to me, and you repeatedly spread FUD about its power to control end users, with no regard for facts.


So, yes, I disagree with you, and I don't understand how you can come to your conclusions. They simply do not make sense in this context.

Read the OP and the fact that his customers were having this confusion. You seem to think the confusion doesn't exist.

And I don't have a bone to pick with the GPL. It's a great license for some stuff. With that said if I'm selling product using the GPL and a customer comes to me with a question about it, I'll explain it. I won't yell at them, or call them idiots, or say, "how dare you question getting more freedom, you liar!"


Read the OP and the fact that his customers were having this confusion. You seem to think the confusion doesn't exist.

No, I think that comments like the one you made contribute to this confusion. I think the confusion exists because of comments like yours (as he also mentioned, there are even people here at HN that are actually confused, and not intentionally spreading FUD). I don't believe that you, specifically, are responsible for all of the confusion about the GPL, but I believe that enough people making false statements about the scope and power of the GPL can add up to real problems for users and developers. That this was one of the FUD tactics of Microsoft regarding the GPL for a number of years makes me perhaps even more sensitive about it. At one point in time, not too far past, that kind of claim was part of the FUD war Microsoft (and other proprietary vendors) waged against Free software.

In short, I believe that people who make statements like yours confuse people into thinking the GPL is something that it is not, and I would like it if people like you, who presumably actually know better, would stop making misleading statements like the one you made. I don't want people to be confused.

So, if you'll simply stop trying to confuse people with misstatements about the GPL, I won't feel compelled to keep arguing with you about it.

And I don't have a bone to pick with the GPL.

A brief review of your comment history when the GPL comes up seems to indicate otherwise.


It might help your case if you didn't call people liars so eagerly, since in the end the "lie" turns out to be merely a "confusing" statement. Especially if the confusing statement was essentially the GPL is confusing to people, and if you're going to use it be prepared to explain it well, which seems to be a statement that you actually agree with.

Don't be super sensitive and interpret everything as an attack on your religion. That's going to scare people away from the GPL. Businesses want competitive advantages, not a religion to subscribe to.


The statement was "confusing" because it was a "lie". As in, people could be confused by what kenjackson said, because the words he wrote were not true.

I'm not interpreting it as an attack. It is an attack, and relatively common type of attack regularly employed by folks who dislike the GPL (as I mentioned, Microsoft once used it with regularity, but they aren't the only ones, and they've been off that particular horse for a while, I think). I'm merely calling it out. I've been involved in Open Source software long enough to have seen a lot of FUD from a lot of different angles. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes it is obvious. This one is an old dead horse that's been beaten to a pulp, but folks still like to trot it out now and then (or roll it out in a wheelbarrow, or something).


> I don't believe that you, specifically, are responsible for all of the confusion about the GPL, but I believe that enough people making false statements about the scope and power of the GPL can add up to real problems for users and developers

People make incorrect statements about the scope and power of GPL because it is the most complex of the free/open licenses, and it is not well drafted. Even Stallman has made incorrect statements about the scope and power of GPL on occasion (mainly be forgetting that if a proposed use of some GPL software would not be a copyright violation absent a license, then GPL does not apply to that proposed use). If he can't get it right all the time, it's not reasonable to expect people who weren't intimately involved in its design and drafting to do so.


I haven't made a single misleading statement. How about this, when someone does come to me with a statement about the GPL I'll just say, "It's too confusing for me apparently. GPL advocates have asked me to remain silent on the issue, so I can offer no advice." That will be my new official stance, on HN at least.

"And I don't have a bone to pick with the GPL.

A brief review of your comment history when the GPL comes up seems to indicate otherwise."

I've only spoken the truth. I realize that freedom for you means others not having the right to speak, so I'll cease my conversation on it for this thread to appease your desire for all-encompassing freedom.


All I've ever asked of you is that you not say untrue things about Open Source software and the GPL license, because I believe it harms users and developers. You're trying to play the martyr here, but what you've said about the GPL here, and in other threads, is simply and demonstrably untrue. Those mistruths spread the confusion you claim to want to alleviate.


I don't think he said anything untrue.

He said people can be confused by it. By definition, all he needs to do is find one person who is confused and what he says isn't untrue.


If I wrote a GPL'ed Javascript library that included a Base64 encoded image, would that image be GPL'ed? Why is that different if the person uploads an image which is then Base64 encoded?

I know the answer, I guess you know the answer, and I suspect most people here know the answer.

But it does need explaining, and to raise the complexity as an issue isn't a "straight-up lie".


Why? The license commercial software uses gives you no rights to do much of anything, yet nobody thinks Adobe owns photos edited in Photoshop. Why should granting more rights change that? It makes no sense to me.

Edit: And GPL already calls out what is covered. Source code. It's incredibly clear.


Why you ask?

The license commercial software uses gives you no rights to do much of anything, yet nobody thinks Adobe owns photos edited in Photoshop.

Exactly. No one thinks that with Adobe. Yet as the original poster pointed out, people do have confusion with open source licenses.

Why should granting more rights change that? It makes no sense to me.

Rights granted with GPL aren't strictly more to the person deploying the GPL code.

And GPL already calls out what is covered. Source code. It's incredibly clear.

The GPL definition of source code is the following:

The "source code" for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

Honestly, I'm not sure exactly what that means. I have a good idea, but if deploying with it, I'd certainly get a lawyer involved.


Because of propaganda. Developers and managers at commercial software companies contribute to it. They call the GPL viral or infectious. The FSF needs to up its own propaganda game to counter this non-sense :/


It looks like the propaganada of calling the GPL "infectious" and "cancerous" has worked. It's sad that some programmers continue to call the GPL viral because it gives an overly negative connotation. I understand if you dislike the license, but attacking it is basically attacking open source licenses in general.


Surely this would be easy to counter? Where would you even begin creating, say, a website without using any OSS?


This is a bit disingenious. When your core product is a hosted service, its a lot easier to be open source. There's a lot more into using your product than just compiling it.

Take a standalone product like Camtasia. It works really well and its worth the money to buy it. But if it was FOSS and I could just donwload the sources, build and it use it, and only had to pay for support -- well I probably would never buy it. I've never needed support with it. It's so easy to use, I've never had a need for support (in fact, that's partially why I'm willing to pay for it!).

Figure out what your business model is first. And then do what makes sense. Open sourcing often does, but not always.


"Take a standalone product like Camtasia. It works really well and its worth the money to buy it. But if it was FOSS and I could just donwload the sources, build and it use it, and only had to pay for support -- well I probably would never buy it. I've never needed support with it. It's so easy to use, I've never had a need for support (in fact, that's partially why I'm willing to pay for it!)."

Not only this, but anyone could build and maintain a free version and make it so the average user doesn't need to even compile it.

Open sourcing an app doesn't really make sense for a business. You will be making it easier for competitors to put you out of business.


True. I hadn't even posed that doomsday scenario. Imagine if MS made Windows and Office FOSS, what would happen? Exactly as you state, Google would build it and make it a free binary download and offer free support of it (probably replacing IE with Chrome, and Google as the search default). This would effectively kill MS and Google wouldn't have to worry about MS funding Bing through Windows and Office.

EDIT: And to be clear, that's largely what Google's Chrome/Docs strategy is. The total revenue from it isn't very large, even if it is a success. The real win is chopping down the core revenue of someone who wants to chop down their core revenue (search revenue). But today Google has to build this all. If MS did FOSS, MS would be handing Google the keys.


I think I agree that in some cases it makes sense to open source things and in some it doesn't. I think when you look at a site like Teambox it makes absolute sense to be an open source product.

To play devils advocate to your point though what about mysql, that's a downloadable product that makes it's money from commercial support or to a lesser extend tools like Phusion passenger. Most people don't pay for them for the thousands of Rails websites passenger hosts. However, for those larger enterprises it's much better to employ the experts for support.

The key is looking to see if you business fits exactly as you say.


For consumer applications, maybe it does make sense to go a different direction if you want to make money from your application; but if you're developing software to sell to businesses, it makes a lot of sense to go the open source route. See, for reference:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/open-source/survey-56-expect-that-...


Interesting survey. Although avoiding vendor lockin is about open formats and data, not open source. For example, SaaS, may create more lockin than closed source code (though not necessarily).

With that said, when I look at the hot enterprise software I see a lot of closed source software. Is this wishful thinking or something that is actually beginning to happen?


I believe something is beginning to happen... down at the OS level, Red Hat have absolutely made big in-roads, and in middleware (esp the Java world) you have Glassfish & JBoss doing very well, and MySQL and PostgreSQL have certainly begun to penetrate the enterprise. And higher up the stack, you have Zimbra, SugarCRM, etc.

No, SAS, SAP, Oracle Apps, Lotus Notes, etc., won't be going away tomorrow. But I think there are clear signs that acceptance of F/OSS in the enterprise is growing.

For my own part, I'm working on an Open Source startup, playing in a space similar to Jive or Yammer... so - for what it's worth - I've bought into the idea. (Then again, I'm a F/OSS ideologue, so I'm not exactly unbiased).


Remember that you are not your users. Maybe you would build from the source (and then again, wouldn't you pay for it since you're a developer and you understand how much work they put into it?), but regular users would take something that works every time, and most of the time they'd pay for it.


I think a couple of tweaks to the conventional OSS licenses would go a long way in getting source into the hands of more users. While I appreciate the GPL and think it's a great option for those who want to use it that way, the fact is it's far too limiting for anyone with an intent to commercialize the software (the actual software, not ancillary services like support). If someone would tweak the license to make it so that there was no unlimited commercial distribution it would become much more attractive, and hopefully a lot of software that today is just a blob would adopt the license and come with source.


Just to clarify - you want a license where you distribute the code to your product along with the product, but your customers (who receive the code) can't then redistribute it themselves? Or perhaps they can even redistribute it, just not commercially (or not in binary form)?

That does seem like an interesting middle ground. It seems like your goal would be to develop a community of developers around it, but with the exception that you are the only person distributing the software (for a fee) to non-developers.


Another route that some companies go is the dual-license model: you release your product as GPL, and if other companies want to use your code and not GPL it they can pay you for a license. That way you have both an open source community and a revenue stream.

The main issue I see is that in order to work it really requires copyright assignment of all code to the company, and in many cases that's a raw deal for your open source contributors.


Yes, I want to see that kind of license. The unlimited redistribution is the thing that really makes it difficult to make money selling the software portion of GPL'd software. For some applications, doing the Red Hat business model of commercial support works fine, but if you have something consumer level, you will not make anywhere near enough money off of that.

Licensing something under the GPL makes financial gain from your copyright practically impossible. People make much more money if they retain their legal right via copyright to be the sole source of (commercial) distribution. Hence, very few corporations are interested in using the GPL for software that they intend to package and sell as its own product.

The ideal license in my mind would include a clause that source and/or binaries should only be given to licensed users. I understand this greatly restricts freedom of distribution compared to the GPL, especially since a user can't know if a user is licensed or not (a practical application of this may be a copyright notice bundled with every patch, telling unlicensed persons they are not allowed to use it), but we know that GPL is too lax on this front from a commercial perspective, making it inviable to sell GPL software (the software itself, not attached services) as a major product. In some cases, a merely non-commercial license might be acceptable. I am always in favor of the most freedom, but we know that the amount of freedom given by the GPL is too much to retain profitability.

I would still encourage GPL use where possible, but a license like the one I've described would make it possible for consumer-friendly developers (Valve's a good candidate imo) to open up their code, allow the community to hack on it and share their hacks amongst themselves, and still protect their revenue stream. This could also be extended to game engines like Source; a non-commercial license would be ideal for that so hobbyists, academics, etc., could still learn from it and use it, and Valve could still make their money licensing it out to other game developers.

The point is to get source into the hands of as many persons as possible. I don't think it's good to restrict this because of divergent economic or political realities; if you're using a computer, you should have source to your programs, and be able to modify them as you see fit, and developers should still be able to make money off of their software.


Yeah, I would love to see that too. Do you happen to know any software developers looking for a license? :-)

I wonder if the FSF would agree to write such a license. It doesn't quite fit with their goals, I think, but they also preach "pragmatic idealism". And they provide the LGPL, so it's not without precedent.


I think you'd find such a change counterproductive. Such a license would not qualify as OSS anymore, which would take away the vast majority of the value. So, you'd incur all the costs of releasing the source, without getting the value of OSS.

You might consider something like the AGPL instead, which still qualifies as Open Source, but which provides added protections for a hosted service.


Wouldn't AGPL be moving is basically the opposite direction from what cookiecaper was suggesting?

(I'd also think AGPL would be less OSS-like than that suggestion, since it limits what changes you're allowed to make instead of just limiting how you're allowed to distribute it.)


It would not qualify as OSS as defined by political figureheads like Stallman, Raymond, et al, but if I can access the code, make changes, and share the changes with others, it's good enough for me.

As another commenter pointed out, AGPL is actually the opposite direction, as it merely applies the copyleft constraints of the GPL to hosted software.


Maybe the problem isn't the GPL, maybe it's the rest of society because we want to keep trying to make money off of something by being selfish.


The problem is that Stallman shoehorned that political philosophy into the free software movement as the only legitimate means of providing software to users. We can discuss the socioeconomic ramifications and the idealized world all we want, but the fact is that if you want computer users to be able to access and modify the source of the programs they use, you have to accommodate people who are out to make a profit at least until some external forces create an economic condition where its feasible to not want any profit.

I have non-mainstream economic and political views too that involve the principles you're talking about, but is Free Software a movement about software or reshaping politics? It's nice to conflate the two and spread philosophy through the GPL to the extent that you can, but it's also nice to know what you're computer is doing and to be free to change it. One goal at a time.


Alright, you've convinced me that making life harder for myself is somehow a way to get and maintain customers. What should I make? /sarcasm

The only good piece of advice here is to be awesome so your customers will love you and your product. ... I'm pretty sure that's common sense, and everyone would do it if it were that easy.


I still don't "get" the allure of open source. As a consumer of my product you are not entitled to anything other than the functionality it provides. That's what you paid for. If you want more than that, then you should pay more to get the source code and knowledge that went into making the product.

I just find it striking how people want to give their product (source code) away for free, without limitation. Just seems like such a waste and detriment to the software engineering profession (i.e., why pay someone to write something when you can go get it for free and piece together yourself).


yourPricePerHour * ( hoursSpentInstalling + hoursPerMonthMaintainingTheService * monthsYouExpectToRunIt ) + costPerMonthForServers * monthsYouExpectToRunIt > yourPricePerMonth

If this formula is true, then users will pay for your service instead of doing it themselves. We have seen this pattern consistently.

Our accounts sell at $12, $29 and $99, which is usually much cheaper than setting it up on yourself and running your own server. We even have switchers that used to host their own version and came to our online version.

This is also being the case with many Wordpress hosting sites. Multi-tenancy brings an economy of scale that allows you to keep good margins while being cheaper than hosting it yourself.


"Our accounts sell at $12, $29 and $99, which is usually much cheaper than setting it up on yourself and running your own server. We even have switchers that used to host their own version and came to our online version."

If I want to run a competing business and I have more money for advertising, servers, and employees, I will not only have an advantage over you, but I now don't have to put any time into R&D.


So you're saying make it very hard to install, very hard to maintain, and run on very expensive hardware.

Yep, that sounds like the business model we all know and love. Apache proved it works.


I'm talking about making your offering better so you're the main choice, not adding crap to your open-source offering so it's harder.


See Mozilla v.s. Netscape.


Just seems like such a waste and detriment to the software engineering profession

Imagine a world with no open source: no Linux, Apache, gcc, Perl, MySQL, Emacs, etc, etc. If you want a website, you have to pay through the nose for a commercial OS, web server, database, and compilers and scripting languages. Will the demand for software developers be higher or lower in that world compared to ours?


Through the nose? I deal primarily with MS software and I've never had to pay through the nose for OSes, internet servers, programming languages, SQL, or Visual Studio. I pay a crazily small amount compared to the sums I make off the vast amount of tools I use.

I'm just trying to put your post into another perspective. I can pay for the tools for a year with a days work. Seems a bargain to me. Perhaps OSS has driven that cost down, we can't a/b test worlds unfortunately.

While I do love using OSS, a lot of it is very user hostile compared to commercial software. Yes mysql, openoffice and gimp, I'm looking at you.


What about people who can't afford $600+ for software?

How would they learn?

Part of the reason I didn't start coding earlier in my life is (I started late high school) is because I didn't know about the free/ open source alternatives to the programs you had to pay for that were in all the books I had access to.


I just find it striking how people want to give their product (source code) away for free, without limitation.

I'm pretty sure that typical open source licenses, such as the GPL, count as a "limitation".

Disclosure: I run a company that sells software which is also available under the GPL.


by limitation, I was thinking in terms of the number of instances of that code out in the wild.


Under the GPL, the number of instances of that library, when linked to and distributed as part of a proprietary application, is limited to "zero".


Except that most 'closed' companies use open source software to build, host, or maintain their product. If everyone kept their software under wraps, their would be no giant's shoulders to stand on.

I think an acceptable (business-wise) middle-way is to open some components that are valuable to the world, but does not immediately make everyone a potential instant competitor.


> If everyone kept their software under wraps, their [sic] would be no giant's shoulders to stand on.

There would be shoulders to stand on, you'd just have to pay for it.


Definitely. A good middle ground is for companies to open source tools and side programs they write that make their work easier. Many other developers would probably derive benefit from them, and who knows, it could turn into another stream of revenue for that company.


If you buy my product with good money, you're entitled to my best support. If you download it for free, you're on your own. If you're not satisfied with my support, you're free to employ someone else. What's hard to understand? This is freedom. I want to be free, therefore I want others to be free, too. I find your attitude striking and detrimental to human need for cooperation and trust.


I agree with your sentiment about support. If I sold you a product under the premise that it provides the functionality you paid for, and it doesn't, then I will fix the product so that it does. Free of charge.

If you (as the producer of the product) choose to provide a product for free, that is totally up to you if you are going to provide support for free or for a fee.

If you (as a consumer of a product) choose to download a free product, you should not have any expectation about the level of support you are going to receive. Depends totally on the vendor. If the product doesn't meet your needs, then you need to find an alternative product or develop your own product.

If the product were open source, you could improve the product on your own. But again, totally up to you on whether or not that's how you want to spend your time. Personally, I'd much rather go find a superior product than spend my limited time trying to clean up someoneelse's code.

You need to be more explicit about freedom- what you mean as you have written it, is freedom to tinker and modify. The lack of that type of freedom has absolutely nothing to do with cooperation and trust.


> If the product were open source, you could improve the product on your own. But again, totally up to you on whether or not that's how you want to spend your time. Personally, I'd much rather go find a superior product than spend my limited time trying to clean up someone else's code.

My company's ERP system (like every other software I use) is free software, namely OpenERP (previously known as TinyERP). However I employed an external specialized service company to build our system around it, and paid this company good money (about 30000 euros IIRC). I myself developed free GPL software for similar amounts of money, several times.

You must extirpate from your mind the ridiculous idea that Libre software is free as beer. It definitely isn't. When used professionally, you must plan to spend money, possibly big money on it. The difference is that you have the choice to spend money where it matters.


If you keep everything to yourself, you help one person, yourself. If you share code, you benefit, what, 10 people? 100?, 1000?, 1000000? And if they share too . . . well you can see how the maths of that goes.

The share-ability of information is like a free natural resource. If we want to really make progress, we use it.

> why pay someone to write something when you can go get it for free and piece together yourself

To pay people to produce things that are already available for free would be economic nonsense. It would be just throwing away effort that could be spent on producing things that are not available and are needed.


Open source has nothing to do with good will. It is simply a request for help. If you are perfectly fine with your workload, there is no (economical) reason to open source your product.


If you're Open Sourcing your product to get help, you will be deeply disappointed. Very few projects, even very large ones, ever see significant contribution from outside developers.

Our project is over 13 years old, used on millions of servers, and is about 95% written by one guy. There are some measurable benefits, like translations and more participatory users who help find bugs faster and occasionally even send patches. But, the odds of outside developers joining a non-developer-centric project, without some sort of incentive, are slim. So, developer tools tend to attract a lot of help. End user applications rarely do (look at GNOME for an example; it's the most important piece of desktop Linux, and yet 90% of the code is being written and maintained by people who are employed full-time to work on said code; volunteers make up a tiny portion of the project).

There are other good reasons to develop software under an Open Source model. But developers working for free is not one of them in the majority of cases, and you'll probably spend more time herding cats than actually getting work done, if that were your primary goal.


I disagree strongly with this. Being Open-Source means more work most of the time: Taking care of the product for users, and making sure it's easy to install and well documented for people wanting to run their own instances.

If you do it simply because you think it's going to save you some work, it won't pay off. Do it because you want other people to benefit from it, but don't expect much from them and maybe it will just happen.


Oh yes, short term it's a little more work. You probably have to write a few tutorials, tidy the codebase up a little more than usual...but in the end, you open source because you want people to do work for you for free.

> If you do it simply because you think it's going to save you some work, it won't pay off.

A very immature blanket statement. Sometimes it will pay off, sometimes not. Depends on everything success usually depends on - open source is not some kind of magical exception. If you have a good product, but you feel like you won't be able to support it forever on your own or you don't expect or want to earn money from it anyway, you will open source it. In the end, it always boils down to wanting help with the workload though. If you had infinite time, you would just write everything yourself. I know I would, it's a lot more satisfying and interesting. But since we are all mere mortals with generally empty bellies, we open source secondary pillars of our livelihood. Nothing wrong with it, that's how it is.


> If you want more than that, then you should pay more to get the source code and knowledge that went into making the product.

Opening the source does not instil the knowledge that went into making the product.

> I still don't "get" the allure of open source.

From which perspective? The user or the programmer?

> I just find it striking how people want to give their product (source code) away for free, without limitation.

Most licenses have limitations to some degree. Even BSD licenses.

> go get it for free and piece together yourself

You can also get the ingredients and recipes yourself and make food yourself. As can you do with clothing. Or numerous other things. However, people pay for service.

> Just seems like such a waste and detriment to the software engineering profession

Except for the fact that the software engineering profession is built on the back of open source.


> Opening the source does not instil the knowledge that went into making the product.

I should have phrased my statement to distinguish the two better, but I agree with your statement.

> From which perspective? The user or the programmer?

From a ISV (handful of people making software) perspective. Why would I provide a service for free when I could do it for cash? I know this will boil down to some altruistic argument. The goal of (most) businesses is to make money, not improve the welfare of others through good deeds.

> You can also get the ingredients and recipes yourself and make food yourself. As can you do with clothing. Or numerous other things. However, people pay for service.

We are talking about software, not food or clothing. Digital goods are not physical goods so the comparison is irrelevant.

> Except for the fact that the software engineering profession is built on the back of open source.

That is purely conjecture.


> Why would I provide a service for free when I could do it for cash

The article is not saying you should, its saying that open source the code you are selling, it might not hurt sales at all, in fact it may improve them, I work for a software vendor (couchbase) where a lot of customers wouldnt even consider using a product that was not open source, but are still willing to pay.

> We are talking about software, not food or clothing. Digital goods are not physical goods so the comparison is irrelevant.

it is not irrelevant, freelance web developers have not lost their jobs because of the billions(+) of html/css/js code that is out there, they are paying for the process in which you came up with that code, then they give it to everyone for free, as all websites do.

> That is purely conjecture.

I think the burden of proof is on you here, open source is the base in which pretty much everything has been built, including this website, the web server it sits on, the programming language it was written in, the operating system that runs on, and more than likely the browser you are viewing it in.


> I think the burden of proof is on you here, open source is the base in which pretty much everything has been built, including this website, the web server it sits on, the programming language it was written in, the operating system that runs on, and more than likely the browser you are viewing it in.

The claim was about the software engineering profession not just the web-based sector.


that was an example that was closest to hand, it did include programming languages and operating systems though, which are not solely web related.


> Why would I provide a service for free when I could do it for cash? I know this will boil down to some altruistic argument. The goal of (most) businesses is to make money, not improve the welfare of others through good deeds.

To increase your the user base of your product, increasing reliance on your product, and thereby increase demand for support and licensing arrangements for said product.

Countless business have build their products and their business on top of that pattern. Both at the consumer end and developer end.

This is, in fact, a feature closed software cannot provide. The ability to continue to use and upgrade software after the developer loses interest in supporting the product.

Basically, open sourcing allows you to add features that you cannot otherwise add. Features that are valued by consumers. No one buys a product because it's closed.

Finally, if your products only advantage is being closed, it's only defense against competition is patents. So, unless you are playing the patent game, someone at some point will come along and create a replacement. And that will affect the money coming in.

> We are talking about software, not food or clothing. Digital goods are not physical goods so the comparison is irrelevant.

Why? Because physical goods are a finite resource? Your argument of "go get it for free and piece together yourself" also discusses a finite resource, "time", as well as "knowledge".

The comparison is relevant unless you can explain away time and knowledge.

> That is purely conjecture.

I disagree. Remove open source, and the software engineering profession would be far different from what it is today. The software engineering profession of today is built on the back of open source. It's not the only element, but to dismiss open source as not being a foundation of modern software engineering as mere conjecture is ignorant.

I'm not of the belief everyone should be required to open source their products. They decide what they want to do. Open sourcing something might require a lot of effort and time that an ISV doesn't have. That's fair. However, outside issues like that, open sourcing makes a lot of sense. Look at Mozilla and Netscape. Wordpress. Apache. Linux. MySQL and Postgre. All these products make the people that build those products money.

Why should you open source your product? I don't know. I don't know your product, or the business. Or what you are providing. However, what I do know is that if it's merely the source code that makes your product valuable, then their isn't much value there to begin with.

Just my 2 cents.


There is the issue of attracting venture capital if your core product is open source. It simply isn't there the way it is for proprietary startups.

On the other hand, selling services and hosting means an actual revenue stream. Strange world we live in.


I was hoping to see more discussion on the actual premise here. For example, should dropbox open source? Should squarespace open source? What did reddit get out of open sourcing (karma?)? Wordpress obviously benefited from of an amazing supporting complementary ecosystem at the same time they turned their own product into a commodity. Love to hear what you think.




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