Open source celebrates the freedom to leave

New survey suggests many are losing patience with vendors touting 'open core' and 'dual license' models that lock in customers

This week in San Francisco, the Open Source Business Conference unveiled its sixth annual Future of Open Source Survey. A self-selecting survey, its results very much reflect the interests of its sponsors, with the mere 740 respondents participating this year representing a 60 percent increase over the number who responded to last year's survey. All the same, the trends revealed in the survey provide some insight into what "influencers" are thinking.

Of those surveyed, 62 percent indicated that open source software represented more than half their software deployment, while 32 percent indicated more than three-quarter of their software was open source. This trend has continued steadily over the years, and I see no reason to expect a reversal; indeed, the survey responses delineate a continuing trend towards open source over the next five years.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Blogger Simon Phipps expounds on the inherent evil of software patents. | Track the latest trends in open source with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

What really stood out to me, though, was the reason open source is being deployed. While the top reason historically was lower costs, the market has been steadily maturing; last year's survey put a freedom from vendor lock-in as the top reason for deployment. This finding was repeated again this year, and I feel confident now that the market is composed of buyers who understand the mechanisms by which open source delivers value to the enterprise.

This indicates a higher-level understanding than just "save money." Yes, there's money to be saved, but not just by vendors offering lower prices that result from slipping license fees. The fact that "avoid lock-in" is now a higher priority than "save money" doesn't mean buyers want to waste money. Rather, it shows an understanding that sustained, buyer-controlled savings are the result of exercising liberties: flexibility of deployment, flexibility with costs, control over the software lifecycle, and above all the flexibility to negotiate with vendors because the "freedom to leave" that true open source solutions permits is intact.

"Freedom to leave" is in my view one of the key dynamics of the meshed society that results from the Internet age. Purchasers of proprietary solutions are highly likely to limit their future choice of supplier through the act of an earlier purchase. But when software specifiers use open source software for enterprise deployments, they retain a choice of which suppliers will be able deliver service next time round the procurement loop. Having a choice of supplier means they can play hardball in negotiations over price and features. Paradoxically, when a supplier tries to lock in its customers, they will try to leave; give them the freedom to do so, and they will most likely stay (all other things being equal).

As the open source market matures further, I believe we'll see greater and greater value placed on the tools it delivers to enterprise IT deployers to control their own destiny. It's not saving money that matters so much as being able to create the greatest value with your available budget. That ability flows from the freedom to use open source software any way you wish, with no lock-in, and to hire experts who've been able to study the software freely. It's delivered by the the existence and success of suppliers who have built clever and effective add-ons and extensions because they were free to modify the code. It's enhanced when any part of your business can deploy the software without concerns about licensing, even suppliers or customers.

OSBC has long been a hold-out of "open core" and "dual license" business models and the VCs who encourage them. I believe that the annual OSBC survey is discovering that the future of open source involves a return to its true values instead.

This article, "Open source celebrates the freedom to leave," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.