Considering SugarCRM? Don't fall into the open source purity trap

Users shouldn't get hung up on typical open source concerns of code openness and community passion -- they don't measure viability

SugarCRM's recent launch of Sugar 6 CRM raised the thorny "but is it open source" question yet again. The question puts too much weight on the accessibility of the product's source code or whether the product has a large enough user community. Current and prospective SugarCRM customers would do well to heed the lessons from the predicament OpenSolaris users now find themselves in and make the product selection based on your business needs, and not aspects such as access to the source code and size of the user community.

Open source, open core, or proprietary?

SugarCRM offers a free AGPLv3-licensed Sugar Community Edition and commercially licensed Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise editions. All three editions provide the user with the product's source code. Paying customers with access to the Professional or Enterprise edition's source code can modify the code, but they are not allowed to redistribute the source code as per term 3 of the commercial license.

[ Is open source evolving to open core? InfoWorld's Savio Rodrigues makes the case. | Keep up with the latest open source trends and news in InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

SugarCRM officials have noted that, like many other open source products, SugarCRM customers virtually never make code modifications, despite having access to the source code.

Not surprisingly, functional differences among the Community, Professional, and Enterprise editions of Sugar 6 CRM exist. These differences, specifically the new user interface that is available only to paying customers, has drawn attention from pundits and commenters.

SugarCRM's Martin Schneider described SugarCRM's open source positioning as follows:

Open source doesn't mean free and was never really meant to mean free. Open source runs through everything we do, it enables us to be transparent and gives customers more power.

But a key element of the open source definition is the right to distribute the licensed code, which is clearly restricted under the SugarCRM commercial license. Some open-core products make the commercially licensed product's source code available to paying customers. Had Schneider said something to the effect of "SugarCRM is an open source company; Sugar Community Edition is an open source product whereas Professional and Enterprise are open core products," the debate as to SugarCRM's open source credibility would not be such a hot topic.

User community or paying customers?

A key issue is whether the new user interface, a fairly critical aspect of the product, can benefit from community input if it's not available to free user community. Dana Blankenhorn writes:

Who will enhance this new interface? Who is going to test it, and nurture it, and grow it? Sugar's answer is Sugar and its paying customers ... What commercial customers pay for is, in part, the community they become honored members of. When a key part of a product is no longer accessible to the community, its value is reduced to paying customers.
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