'Open source' doesn't mean what it used to

Does your interpretation of an "open source product" match your vendor's? If you don't know, you may not be getting what you expect

Lately there's been lots of blog and Twitter chatter about recognizing an open source product. While an interesting intellectual exercise, the debate could also have a real-world impact on IT purchasing decisions.

Open source "purity"

I used to spend time debating the open source "purity" of a given open source vendor. I moved on when Shaun Connolly, with JBoss at the time, wrote a post titled "Open Source Community and Barack Obama." In 2010, it's incredibly difficult to define an "open source vendor," because virtually every IT vendor uses open source in its products, contributes to open source, or provides services around open source.

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The recent debate about open source "purity" extends beyond the vendor and instead focuses on products. The debate is being spurred by the increasingly popular open-core licensing approach and the delivery of software products through cloud offerings. The 451 Group's Matt Aslett writes:

It ought to be simple: Either the software meets the open source definition or it does not. But it is not always easy to tell what license is being used, and in the case of software being delivered as a service, does it matter anyway? The ability to deliver software as a hosted service enables some companies that are claimed to be 100 percent open source to offer customers software for which the source code is not available.

In the perfect world, customers would pay vendors for the value they receive from usage of free and open source products. Because that hasn't really panned out, open-core licensing and cloud delivery of open source software are gaining attention as leading approaches to capture revenue around open source products.

Keep an eye on freedom of action

Customers using or considering a product that falls into the open-core licensing category, take note: The enterprise commercial product you purchase probably won't offer the same freedoms as the open source community edition that the developers likely used and became advocates for.

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