On a recent trip to Montreal, I reconnected with Marc Laporte, leader of the WikiSuite project and an old friend and fellow wiki enthusiast. Naturally, we talked about open source business strategies and he pointed me to one way of how commercial open source companies make money: They don’t provide you with a free upgrade path from one version to the next; you only get an upgrade if you pay.
This strategy, to the best of my knowledge, was pioneered by Jorg Janke of Compiere, one of the earliest open source ERP systems. Back then, if you wanted to upgrade from one version to the next, you had to purchase the upgrade scripts from Compiere, Inc. Not surprisingly, users were not happy. Compiere is long gone, but the community open source fork lives on as Adempiere.
Marc pointed me to Odoo, another open source ERP vendor (the former OpenERP), which not only charges you for the upgrade, but requires that you provide your data to them so that they can run their upgrade scripts in private. You can’t buy the scripts, only the service, and you have to trust them to treat your data confidentially. Talk about taking it up one notch.
In general, I’m fine with commercial open source strategies. I just hope that Odoo communicates succinctly and consistently what users are getting into when they deploy Odoo. Discovering too late that you have to pay does not make happy customers, and unhappy customers are usually the beginning of the end.