What others say about open core

The past week more and more people weighed in on the open core debate. Personally, I don't have much more to add now and it seems I have been able to articulate why it is bad and against open source. Watching some of the comments of this week it also seems that the more people talk/write about it, the more their true thinking and motivation becomes apparent to everyone. So rather than add more words, I will just highlight what others are saying.

Watching the discussion last week reminded me of a friend in university, who was a vegetarian. This was becoming popular at the time. I once then saw her ordering a chicken pizza, so I mentioned that she is not a vegetarian after all. This upset her and she protested that who am I to judge her and surely just because she eats chicken doesn't mean she is not a vegetarian.

Now unto the open core debate...

Brian Proffit already 2 weeks ago wrote about his encounter with SugarCRM:

Don't mention "open core" to Larry Augustin. Trust me, not a good idea.

He gets a small twitch in his face and [...] I felt it prudent to take half a step back when I stupidly lumped SugarCRM in with open core products in a barroom conversation with him last month.

The clouds dissipated and I, and my drink, emerged unscathed. But I did get a thorough explanation from the CEO of SugarCRM of what open core is, and why it is not the same as dual-licensing.


The classic example for dual-licensing is MySQL, which has two licenses: the free (as in beer) version under the GPL and the not-so-free non-GPL commercial licensed version. With the commercial license, customers can sell a MySQL-based product without making the product open source. SugarCRM, it should be noted, has a similar dual-license approach, with the Community Edition under GPLv3, and the commercial versions (Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise) under a proprietary license.

I decided that this was a classic case of somebody being wrong on the internet, so I went to sleep and resisted the urge to point out to him that SugarCRM is indeed a good example of open core, and he even writes about it having a proprietary license so how could you miss that? For that matter, MySQL is also an open core company.

Even without me pointing it out, this week SugarCRM then saw open core blowing up in their face on Slashdot. Their CEO Larry Augustin then responded in an open letter that SugarCRM takes open source to its heart and in fact they are more open than open source itself:

Open Source is at the heart of SugarCRM’s business. Well over half of our engineering effort produces code that is released under an OSI approved license.
Open Source code is just part of that. “Open” to us means more than source code. It’s an entire philosophy about how we do business and how we empower our customers.

I often get criticized when I say that a company or person practicing open core cannot be counted as representing the open source community. Just like Larry Augustin, such persons often act offended when hearing that.

Savio Rodrigues is known as Infoworld's resident open source blogger. Now what do you think about this:

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 [...] 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.

I think that advice speaks for itself and no further commentary is necessary!

CollabNet's Jack Repenning says:

These are all smart, experienced guys, but they seem to be running in different directions. Makes you wonder if they're all thinking of the same thing when they say "open core"! Maybe we need to work that part out, first.

I commented on Jack's post that it seems to me CollabNet (which is a heavy user and sponsor of Subversion) isn't engaging in any of the open core practices I call objectionable. Jack's reply indicates that he is mostly concerned about the negative image now attached to open core and worried that his company would then be suffering from the negative image too. This leads to the question how one should classify or label such a model, which is similar to open core but does not have centralized copyright and separates the proprietary code to a different brand.

If you were only reading one blog on this case, it should be Matthew Aslett's. He has taken upon himself to aggregate the different opinions, digest and analyse them and possibly come up with sensible conclusions. his latest post extensively draws from my previous post that detailed specific objectionable open core practices and then (correctly, if you ask me) classifies the different opinions into those that see open source as an end in itself (using me as an example) and those that only see open source as a means to another end. (The other end being maximizing profit, and this group represented by Mark Radcliffe.) I made quite a few comments to this post, not because I object to anything but because I think Matthew is trying to do something helpful and I try to feed him more material to digest.

Bradley Kuhn, a free software lawyer, has also voiced his concerns about open core for some time, and did so recently again:

For example, Mårten Mikos recently argued in favor of these sorts of large profits. He claims that to "benefit massively from Open Source" (i.e., to get really rich), business models like “Open Core” are necessary. Mårten's argument, and indeed most pro-Open-Core arguments, rely on this following fundamental assumption: for FLOSS to be legitimate, it must allow for the same level of profits as proprietary software. This assumption, in my view, is faulty. It's always true that you can make bigger profits by ignoring morality. Factories can easily make more money by completely ignoring environmental issues; strip mining is always very profitable, after all. However, as a society, we've decided that the environment is worth protecting, so we have rules that do limit profit maximization because a more important goal is served.

And finally, as I wrote this also Simon Phipps came back with further commentary, where he reuses some ideas developed earlier on this blog:

Since this version significantly differs from the community version, there is no fall-back plan and while the customer may have access to their data (if the vendor is sufficiently enlightened about open data), there’s no software they can continue to use. They are unable to trade “time” for “money”, to use Mårten Mickos’ famous explanation – they are locked in and the open source core of the proprietary version delivers no freedom to them.

If this latter situation was described as “proprietary” (or avoided association with open source, as for example IBM’s WebSphere does in its embedding of Apache HTTPD) I would have no issues either.


But a vendor which mixes these two encourages exactly the market confusion that OSI was designed to minimise. If they claim to be “an open source business” and use the presence of the community edition as a credential to sell the proprietary versions, they wrap themselves in the open source flag and their actions are exactly the gaming of the maturity of the Open Source Initiative that I believe should be challenged.

(Update: Links to Bradley Kuhn and Simon Phipps were added shortly after original publication.)

And while I was writing this, the Open Source Initiative finally also spoke out solidly against open core:
Why Open Core has a problem and is not a problem (Russ Nelson)
A simple declaration about "Open Core" (Andrew Oliver)

These add to Simon Phipp's earlier personal blogs against it, making it 3 OSI directors now firmly against open core.

This is welcome, given that Mark Radcliffe, the OSI lawyer (but not apparently a Director, rather "just" a lawyer) in his personal blog had hurried out to defend the model in an ill advised blog post that also gets the history of the OSI completely wrong, leading Groklaw to ask the justified question whether OSI is still defending open source. Seems we can still count on the good old OSI, but it wouldn't hurt to get that membership and constituency thing fixed any day now.

With OSI now taken a firm position, Slashdot giving SugarCRM a run, and NASA and Rackspace hitting back at Eucalyptus, it seems we are close to declaring "slam dunk" on yet another effort to undermine open source.

Time to go to bed and sleep well.

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