Defining an open source vendor

Arriving at a definition of an open source vendor is much more challenging than it seems.

Matt Aslett had a great post about defining an "open source vendor" earlier this week. The post was in response to OpenNMS CEO Tarus Balog, who didn't agree with Matt's use of the term "open source vendor" to describe companies with "open core" licensing strategies. Tarus argued:

Hyperic IQ is commercial software. There is no open version, and it's published under a closed license (at least from what I can gather). Both Hyperic and JasperSoft are "open core" companies -- commercial software companies who use open source to market their software. So it seems a little ironic that you would preface this news, where they don't even make the pretense of having a "community" version, by calling these companies "open source vendors."

To which Matt replied:

In writing these reports I made the decision that for me an "open source vendor" is one that is reliant on open source software in order for its business strategy to function. By that definition we would include open source purists such as OpenNMS but also the likes of Hyperic and JasperSoft, which would have very different commercial business strategies were their products not based on open source.

Matt is clear that this is his definition of an open source vendor because, at this time, there isn't a universally approved definition.

To which Tarus replied:

It seems from your definition both Google and Amazon would qualify as "open source vendors" since their business model would not be possible at all without open source.

I started this post thinking I would take Matt's definition and alter it slightly to ensure that companies like Google and Amazon are not considered open source vendors. And here's where I ended up:

An "open source vendor" is one that develops, contributes to, and distributes open source licensed products, which are integral to driving its revenue.

By this definition, Google and Amazon are not open source vendors. Open source software is not integral to driving Google's or Amazon's revenue. It is absolutely critical to Google's and Amazon's business models and cost structures, but not revenue.

For all of Microsoft's open source actions, they do not distribute open source licensed products that are integral to its revenue. Contrast this with vendors that utilize the open core business model, such as Hyperic or JasperSoft. Hyperic's revenue from Hyperic HQ Enterprise or Hyperic IQ is expressly linked to the customers they've secured with their open source licensed Hyperic HQ Open Source product.

The problem with this definition is how it applies to companies such as IBM, HP, and Accenture. They all contribute to and distribute Linux and other open source in order to generate revenue from servers or implementation services. As such, they would be considered "open source vendors" by my definition. Sigh ... I guess I shouldn't apply for that job at Webster's.

What do you think; can you improve on the definition?

P.S.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

Related:

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.