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.
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:
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.
In software engineering, the magic triangle is a well-known concept to illustrate the relationship between scope, time, and cost of a software development project. Of the three (scope, time, cost), pick two, and the third will magically follow. (It is determined by the other two.) Scope means features (or delivered functionality), time means duration or deadline, and cost typically means number of developers or, more abstractly, available labor.
I just submitted the following short position statement on how to work with ML / KI techniques in software engineering. This is a statement on using such techniques for the engineering of software, not in the software itself, which is a (not completely, but mostly) separate issue.
ML / KI techniques can be use in software development to assist the human engineer. Properly applied, they can make engineers more productive by helping them focus on understanding and solving the human problem behind the software to be developed (essential complexity) and by freeing them from getting distracted by technical implementation details (accidental complexity).
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.
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.
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.
Abstract: Open source has given us many innovations. This article provides an overview of the most important innovations and illustrates the impact that open source is having on the software industry and beyond. The main innovations of open source can be grouped into four categories: Legal innovation, process innovation, tool innovation, and business model innovation. Probably the best known innovations are open source licenses, which also define the concept.
Keywords: Open source, open collaboration, open innovation, software industry, business models
Reference: Riehle, D. (2019, April). The Innovations of Open Source. IEEE Computer vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 59-63.