Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

What about skipping the “open source” part in commercial open source?

GitButler, a budding better git client, just announced that it is making its source code available under the Functional Source License (FSL), a source-available/non-compete license. In a tweet, GitButler states that this is open-source software. Previous attempts at calling competition-curbing licenses open source licenses failed, and I expect it won’t be different here.

What’s new is that GitButler did not follow the common pattern of commercial open source, which is to (1) start as openly as possible (say MIT license), (2) get more restrictive (e.g. AGPL-3.0), (3) leave open source (switch to source-available license), until (4) stopping to publish source code at all. GitButler skipped the open source part and went straight from closed source to source-available. The interesting question is why?

Scott Chacon, cofounder of GitButler, tweets that “I really hate that businesses writing OSS have to compete with large bad actors just taking their stuff.” Keeping the competition at bay is the common argument for choosing a non-compete license like the FSL.

The reason for open sourcing is typically to benefit from a community of enthusiastic users. However, the open source community at large has been pushing back against the new breed of source-available licenses pretty strongly, and all commercial open source firms that I’m aware of switched to source-available only after building a community using a proper open source license.

It will be interesting to see whether GitButler can build a source-available community like commercial open source firms were able to build an open source community around their software.

In the end, I think that licenses alone are simply the wrong way of going about the problem of curbing the competition. Codifying and certifying good commercial behavior is a better way, in my opinion, for example, by using the commercial open source pledge or having a separate organization hold your feet to the fire if you deviate from the straight and narrow.


  1. Dirk Feuchter Avatar
    Dirk Feuchter

    1. How could such a “separate organization” look like? Who can I imagine for example? 2. Do there exist any metrics (=> e.g. @CHAOSS) describing or measuring such “good commercial behavior” in FLOSS-projects?

    1. Dirk Riehle Avatar

      It should be a non-profit, in my book, codifying, certifying, and re-assessing commercial open source firms. It could be one of the existing foundations, though I don’t think it fits their business model. Conceivably, it could be UL or TUEV 😉

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