Matthew Aslett’s recent blog entry, Open Source is not a Business Model, garnered some strong comments, and I had a chance to read the entire report over the weekend.
The report provides a thorough survey of open source vendors, and a number of the findings in the report are not entirely suprising. Though, the article’s slant misses the some bigger parts of the open source picture, such as value to customers and some of the market dynamics of open source.
Some of the data from the report supports different perspectives from those articulated in the report. First, the report makes the point that the users of “reciprocal” licenses such as the GNU GPL prefer to have a development model that is led by the vendor, as opposed to the community. This perspective is backwards. Software vendors that lead open source projects, as opposed to the community leading the project, choose reciprocal licenses such as the GPL for their projects, it is not the license choosing the vendor.
Next, the report states that majority of open source vendors utilize some form of commercial license to distribute open source software. A minor point here, the 451 report includes the dual licensing model as a commercial license tactic. If dual licensing were separated out from commercial licensing as a special case, then the open source vendors that utilize a commercial license are not in a clear majority. There is a good case to make this separation as dual licensing is not utilized to develop software “out of sight” of the community and users, but addresses some of the needs and desires of the commercial users of the open source software.
The report indicates that the line between open and close source software is becoming blurred, and I interpreted this to mean customers should beware. Another respondent even interpreted this to mean that Open Source Business does not Scale. A more pragmattic view is that the economic nature of open source software is such that open source software can go most anywhere that it is useful, even into proprietary projects, so long as the open source project is viable. Profit-seeking companies will take advantage of the actual open source software or the market buzz associated with open source or both to suit their own purpose.
End users of open source software, paying and for free, consume open source software as they find value in the particular software. The open source market finds a balance between the needs of the end user, the community and the vendor associated with the project. For some projects that balance will lead to a blurring of open and close software, for others there will not be any blurring.