The Story: What’s in a name? Back in the days of the Gingrich revolution, the nastiest label you could pin on a politician was “liberal.” And now that open source has become an essential technology, the quickest way to get a rise out of an open source executive (and to get flamed on dozens of blogs) is to say his or her company is “commercial.”
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No matter what you call them, open source companies have been steadily integrating parts of the hated commercial software subscription model into their business. First it was support, and now it is software access. Say it ain’t so, Linus.
MySQL, for example, will charge users of its enterprise edition of Workbench to use the code, not just for support as has been the traditional open source business model. “We are looking for ways to extend our offerings in a way that can be monetized,” bluntly says Kaj Arno, the company’s VP for community.
Chander Kant, founder of the open source storage software company Zmanda, is likewise frank about the need to drive revenue. Speaking of the open source community as a whole, he says, “We are not a charity. We need to monetize.”
Recognizing that charging to use open source software flies in the face of the original open source premise of freely sharable code open to everyone, Arno is quick to note that the paid version of Workbench has code and features not found in the free version — and that the free version “is not crippled.” Arno calls the move an experiment, and acknowledges that MySQL needs to move carefully to avoid upsetting the often quick-tempered open source community.
Is this a trend? Red Monk analyst Stephen O’Grady says it is: “Ultimately when you look at a high-profile firm like MySQL embracing it, it’s difficult to conclude anything else.”
InfoWorld blogger (and IBM employee) Savio Rodrigues notes another example. In a recent blog post, he looked at changes to JBoss since it was purchased by Red Hat Software and concluded: “The Fedora/JBoss subscription is just like the software subscription business model that commercial software vendors have been using for decades.”
Does that mean a company that adopts the usage-based pricing model isn’t really open-source? That’s an interesting point, since as Zmanda’s Kant acknowledges, “the litmus test of open source is control of the code.” Open source software delivered through appliances keeps the access — and thus control — away from users, he notes. But code binaries distributed as software remain open to their users — for now, at least.