Free and Open Source Software Licenses Explained (Miriam Ballhausen, IEEE Computer Column)

I’m happy to report that the second article in the new Open Source Expanded column of IEEE Computer was published.

TitleFree and Open Source Software Licenses Explained
KeywordsOpen Source Software, Licenses, Computer Security
AuthorsMiriam Ballhausen, Bird & Bird, LLP, Hamburg, Germany
PublicationIEEE Computer, June 2019, pp. 82-86, vol. 52

Abstract: This installment of Computer’s series exploring free and open source software confronts a pressing issue, free and open source software licenses: what they are, the rights they convey, and the restrictions they impose.

As always, the article is freely available (local copy).

The Commercial Open Source Pledge

I’m pretty frustrated by some of the discussion around the recent relicensing decisions by commercial open source companies. A fair bit of it seems confused to me, and I think this is mostly due to commentators not understanding the purpose of community for the vendor. So I decided to write a hypothetical pledge for venture-capital backed companies that those can adopt to be clear about their intentions. Then, future behavior doesn’t come as a surprise. Non VC-backed companies may want to tone down the return-on-investment verbiage. With that:

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Market Segmentation in the Open Core Model

Life is exciting in commercial open source land. On Tuesday this week, another commercial open source vendor relicensed its product while at the same time disavowing the open core model, which they call a tiered approach to their business. This disavowel piqued my interest, not because the open core model is good or bad, but because the argument seemed confused to me and illustrates how important it is to understand your users and the resulting market segmentation.

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From the Bag of Commercial Open Source Tricks: Paying for the Upgrade

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.

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How to Convince Your Management of the Need for an Open Source Program Office

Here is the simplest eye-opener that I have found in my consulting practice to convince management of the need for an open source program office:

Ask your manager to look at the open source license section under legal notices on their mobile phone. Ask them to scroll down to the end (they’ll never finish). Then point out that your product needs the same but doesn’t have it yet (if it doesn’t).

The reasoning behind this recommendation is that many managers simply don’t understand the extent to which open source is in their products. There is no better demonstration than to show them using a device they use frequently.

Time to Curb Your Open Source Wording

I view open source mostly from an economic perspective. From this point of view, some of the words people use are curious. For example, people like to talk about “giving back” to the community or “donating a project” to the public. These idioms have community building power, like insider speak among those who speak it, but to non-insiders, they are mostly confusing.

I feel pretty certain that these idioms slowed down the growth and adoption of open source. So let me use the two I just picked as an example and translate them.

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Translation (to German) of Interview on Open Source in the Public Sector

I recently was interviewed about open source in the public sector and blogged my answers here:

t3n magazin now (liberally) translated these to German. Check it out: Ich denke, dass Software mit offenem Quelltext längst gewonnen hat. (local copy).

Free-to-Use, Unless You Are a Cloud Provider (The New Strategy?)

On the heels of my talk about the current licensing challenges to single-vendor open source firms, I want to discuss the resulting strategy for vendors selling to developers.

Single-vendor open source firms go to market by providing software they developed to the world under an open source license. The goal is to create a large non-paying user base, from which customers are acquired using a variety of incentives. One type of single-vendor open source projects are application component projects like MongoDB (a NoSQL database) or Confluent Platform (a stream processing platform based on Apache Kafka). It is these types of companies which ran into licensing problems.

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Why Now? And Who? The Struggle Over Single-Vendor / Open-Core Licensing

In yesterday’s talk I reviewed the current licensing struggle of single-vendor open source firms. Single-vendor open source firms go to market by providing software they developed for free, under an open source license, while also offering a commercially licensed version of this software, possibly with extensions and services that customers may want to pay for. Because of the open source version of this software, large cloud vendors can compete with the original vendor for running this software as a service. They did this so well that some single-vendor firms decided to change their future licensing to a proprietary license to stall the competition, irking the open source community and creating a backlash on many sides.

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Single-Vendor Open Source at the Crossroads (Slides) #lfosls

I’ll be giving a presentation on single-vendor open source today at the Linux Foundation Open Source Leadership Summit 2019.

Abstract: Most venture capital funding in open source flows to single-vendor open source firms. With the struggles over licensing in the cloud, these companies find themselves at the crossroads: Stay true to open source or move to proprietary licenses, abandoning the goodwill and opportunities that come with open source? In this talk I will review how this business model works, discuss the challenges posed to vendors by large cloud providers, and review the options on the table.

If you liked the slides, you might like the paper as well.

Next up: Why now? And who? The struggle over single-vendor / open-core licensing.