Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

User-led open source consortia, defined

User-led open source consortia expanded the reach of open source beyond the IT industry. Given this impact, it is important to get the definition right. This is my third attempt. I think this is it.

All open source developed by a broad and diverse community is community open source, as opposed to commercial open source, which usually is developed only by one or a few companies. Community open source projects can be economically important, so they need good governance, which often leads to the creation of a foundation or consortium.

Community open source foundations can be split into user-led and developer-led foundations. The difference, in line with open source licenses, is in the use-case: User-led foundations develop software for their own, in-house, use, and developer-led foundations develop software for use in products that they sell. User-led foundations predominantly develop full-blown applications, while developer-led foundations mostly develop components for their products.

Both types of foundations can have natural people and companies as members. If those members are clear about why the foundations exist, they often create membership strata to ensure this intent is maintained and not high-jacked. Some foundations allow only natural people or only companies as members, and we have used this in the past to make a distinction, but I don’t think it is so important any longer.

The most obvious consequence from the intent of a foundation is the choice of open source license. User-led consortia tend to choose a copyleft license, because they want to limit vendors’ options to turn the software into a commercial product. Mostly, they want the software to be serviced, and they don’t want to get locked-in by proprietary extensions. Developer-led consortia prefer a permissive non-copyleft license for the components they jointly develop, because they don’t want to limit how they build and sell their products.


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