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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:


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.

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