Why Open Source Works As a Licensing Model
A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in eWeek which asked whether the profit motive will "fragment" the open source community.
This actually gets us to a common misperception about open source: that it's result of a small, dedicated a group which simply believes that all software should be free. If this were true, "making money from open source" could be seen as a betrayal of the cause. Perhaps the rest of the believers would then throw up their arms, give up, or at least go elsewhere.
The reality, however, is quite different. The "open source community" is really a hodgepodge of incumbent Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), startup ISVs, hardware vendors, free speech advocates, academics, users, service providers, and, now, venture capitalists and lawyers. They have very little in common except for practicing a common software licensing model.
In light of this, the question should not be whether profit motive would fragment the "open source community," but rather why an "open source community" seems to exist at all? Why does such a disparate group get drawn to practicing this software licensing model at all? The reason is simple:
- It works for developers and academics as a way to collaborate on research and development.
- It works for incumbent ISVs and hardware vendors as a complementary product strategy.
- It offers users and service providers a lower cost of ownership (usually) and greater flexibility (almost always.)
- It offers a startup ISV a way to develop products faster and cheaper using pre-existing components and distribute those products more efficiently.
- It offers free speech advocates a vehicle for creating a pool of collectively owned intellectual property.