Saturday, April 05, 2008

If only Newton were Apache....

Whilst I'm on a roll...

I continue to get asked by all sorts of parities, "Why is Newton using a GPL (actually AGPL) open source license? Why isn't it Apache?" Less frequently, the same question in another guise - "Why did Paremus set up codeCauldron rather than join Apache or Eclipse?"

This question usual emanates from one of three sources:

  • Individual Developer: Usually very excited about Newton and its capabilities; typically a Samurai - (Paremus like Samurai!). The conversation goes - "If only Newton were Apache, I could deploy it in production without sign-off". The Samurai sees the value in the product, sees the vision - and believes (but cannot ensure) the organization will do the right thing; the right thing being to pay for support and consultancy services from the company that developed the product. Unfortunately I've seen exactly the opposite behavior from a number of Organisations! Many VC's believe without questioning - the diffusion model; i.e. "Give it away and the revenue will roll in" - yes, those very words have been used. My response - I continue to watch SpringSource and MuleSource with much interest! But I predict that the VC's in question are in for a shock!
  • The Small SI: Usually want Newton capabilities upon which they can build business specific services - but do not want to pay for the privilege. Newton is unique in its capabilities at present - so either the SI must make their own derivative code GPL, or develop the equivalent of Newton capabilities themselves, or enter a commercial relationship with Paremus. If only Newton were Apache!
  • Tier 1 Technology Vendors: Complain - "We (who shall remain nameless) cannot officially look at Newton code because it's GPL. Implication being: We are not interested in a commercial relationship with you, rather we want to see what you Paremus folks have, try and guess where you are going, and then do it ourselves. If only Newton were Apache!
So whilst capable of generating a large footprint, the Apache license model is, I believe, a significant barrier for small innovative companies wanting to build a financial successful business, as:
  • Its easy to give something away. Trying to charge for usage a-priori - much more difficult! Again, I continue to watch SpringSource and MuleSource with much interest!
  • The giants of the Software Industry, after the Linux/JBOSS experience have become quite effective at controlling open source communities, and neutralizing potential threats to the status quo; just my paranoid observations.
Perhaps Microsoft were correct all along?

That said, companies with closed source / proprietary software products seem to make the same mistake. The market is tough, developers opt for "free open source" solutions, our ROI isn't obvious? So give away the product based on some criteria - to customers with revenue below a certain level, or limited functionality / scale of the free product. Later - when the customer exceeds this boundary - we have them by the balls! (queue evil laugh). A viable long-term business strategy?

Again, I have my doubts.


Aslam said...

I tend to agree with you that GPL does, at least, force a revenue stream for companies that do offer an open source product. The reality is that VC's like product-focused businesses and not service-focused businesses.

In the world of open source software, subscription based revenue streams on products is a more successful business model compared to "give it away and the money will roll in" model. And GPL is one way to "motivate" users to pay for products. Otherwise your open source offering is just donation-ware.

Even SpringSource are shifting their strategy by releasing Spring management tools ... but for a subscription fee.

Thanks for the pointers on the OSGi article I put up on DZone.

Aslam Khan

Neil Ellis said...

Well thought out responses, we need more on this debate.

Well as a convert to GPL, I can say that it makes a lot of sense if you're producing an end product.

As you made clear, the real losers will be those who actually wish to subvert your business model anyway.

GPL allows everyone to get your product for free with the source. You just can't rip it off and close source it .... wait a minute, isn't that a good idea!

So JBoss GPL Linux GPL. Doesn't make us fear either of those products, however if Hibernate was GPL - it would be dead in the water. Even LGPL would have folk nervous.

All the best