The Business of Open Source Software (#OSBC)

I would like to be in San Francisco for the Open Source Business Conference that starts today, but it's not to be. Will have to be content with #OSBC for tweets.

As the name implies, OSBC takes a look at the commercial aspects of open source software. That could be the type of business model used by an open source software vendor; best ways for incorporating open source software into a business IT strategy; or tackling concerns about legal compliance and governance with open source licenses.

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There was an interesting set of statistics published a week or two back where, according to Google's web crawlers, there are now over 31 million open source projects, containing 2 billion lines of code. Last week onthe Joomla extensions directory where I went to update information about our OTRS Gateway, for example, I saw that we're one of an amazing 7541 extensions available. The Google stats (see pie chart on left) took a look at the different open source licenses available - there is a strong bias found in favour of the 'copyleft' licenses such as GPL and LGPL, with a much smaller ratio for the 'permissive' licenses such as BSD, Apache and MIT.

OpenLogic, a company which provides support for open source software to enterprises, published stats today that came from usage of their index of open source projects. The gist of the findings were that open source developers strongly prefer GPL - around 75% for GPL and LGPL combined; but users downloading prefer packages with an Apache license. They have a way of measuring (look at their site for details) how downloads end up being used by companies distributing open source software in their software or electronics products, and again the preference is for permissive licenses.

To put it simply, if you are using open source in the embedded software of your consumer electronics device, you would consider it 'safer' not to use a GPL licensed component in case it has an impact on your own intellectual property.

A fair point, perhaps. But it seems to me that companies with an interest in promoting open source (as well as tools for compliance) ought to go on to make clear that GPL is an issue to consider when you are onwardly distributing software in some form. If users downloading open source are using it in their own IT only, the issue isn't the same at all.

There's a similar disingenuity when people report that Google has an outright ban on all Affero GPL (AGPL) licensed open source software. This is hardly surprising - a company that makes money from web-based services isn't going to embrace a license that specifically requires that the complete source code be made available to any network user of the AGPL-licensed work.

The business challenge for open source software vendors isn't understanding why other companies prefer permissive licenses. It's working out how to build a decent business model around those licenses. That's why they pick GPL or dual-licensing (one GPL, one commercial) strategies.

There's still road to travel on this particular discussion, but it seems sensible to identify different stakeholders by their particular requirements, rather than a composite in which all individual concerns get mixed up together.

Value of a DMS for product development

Tags: Open Source Software, New Product Development

Paul Walsh

Written by Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh was one of the founders of Cognidox. After a period as an academic working in user experience (UX) research, Paul started a 25-year career in software development. He's worked for multinational telecom companies (Nortel), two $1B Cambridge companies (Ionica, Virata), and co-founded a couple of startup companies. His experience includes network management software, embedded software on silicon, enterprise software, and cloud computing.