As a researcher, imprecise naming bothers me. The general confusion around the terms commercial open source, professional open source, and community open source warrants closer analysis.
First my proposal, then some litmus tests, followed by a bit of history.
- Commercial open source is software provided as open source where a single legal entity owns the rights to the software (SugarCRM, Alfresco, etc.)
- Professional open source is software provided as open source where a dominant firm provides services around the software without actually owning it (JBoss, Spring, etc.)
- Community open source is software provided as open source where multiple stakeholders hold the rights and no player dominates the software (Linux, Apache, etc.)
So here are some litmus tests:
- It is commercial open source (and not professional open source), if the open source firm can sell you usage rights to the software under a proprietary license.
- It is community open source (and not professional open source), if the services market is fluid and not dominated by one company.
- It is professional open source, if a single firm dominates the software but where other firms can compete (mostly) fairly on services. Typically this means that the copyright is spread among multiple parties, but the professional open source firm may hold some rights like trademarks that give some some additional leverage.
Historically, as far as I know, commercial open source was first practiced by MySQL, even though the term was only invented later by SugarCRM. A core go-to-market approach is the dual-license strategy. Only commercial open source firms can apply this strategy. The term professional open source was invented by Marc Fleury of JBoss to give open source a better reputation; mostly it refers to the provision of (professional) services around some particular open source software.
Both commercial and professional open source are go-to-market approaches and core strategies of a firm’s business model. Community open source is not a business model. If employed strategically, all it does is to curtail the revenue gathered from a particular market (like operating systems). It is used to shift revenues from the curtailed market into ancillary markets; basically a share of customer’s wallet ploy for the companies dominating one or more of the ancillary markets.
This appendix was written one day after the original post. My original post had been triggered by a rather confused academic article in a high-profile journal. So I figured I should do the leg work and review how other folks have defined these terms.
- Giampaolo Garzarelli and Roberto Galoppini distinguish corporate, voluntary, and hybrid open source project models. Corporate open source is the same as commercial open source. In my understanding, voluntary and hybrid equal first and second generation community open source. First-gen community open source was completely driven by volunteers, second-gen community open source is being driven by volunteers and firms alike. There is no notion of professional open source, though the services business model probably always figures in.
- Michael Nolan argues that commercial and community open source exist and need to be distinguished. He compares Open Solaris with Eclipse and views the former as a commercial and the latter as a community project. I concur with his point about Eclipse not directly making IBM money but shifting the revenues to ancillary products, as stated above and argued elsewhere in more detail. I disagree, however, that only community open source is viable in the long-run and that it cannot serve commercial purposes.
- Matt Asay also agrees that commercial and community open source are different from each other. He argues that commercial open source has a firm at its center which gives a project focus and momentum, something that may be lacking from community open source. I used to agree with this distinction, but I think the second generation community open source demonstrated by the Apache Software Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation shows that community open source can have focus and momentum right from the start.
I want to emphasize that I’m talking about using open source as a go-to-market strategy. From this perspective, ownership rights become the core distinguishing factor. As far as I can tell, commercial and community open source are becoming the accepted terms. Professional open source as a term (not a practice) may loose traction, as people simply talk about open source services firms.