Archive for October 16th, 2009

Why COMmunity+COMpany is a winning COMbination

There is an interesting debate, partially moved by Matt Asay, with sound responses from Matthew Aslett, that centered on the reasons for (or not) moving part of the core IP asset of an open source company towards an externally controlled group, like a consortia. Matthew rightly indicates that this is probably the future direction of OSS (the “4.0″ of his graph), and I tried to address this with a few friends on twitter- but 140 chars are too few. So, I will use this space to provide a small overview of my belief: the current structure based on open core is a temporary step in a more appropriate commercialization structure, that for efficiency reason should be composed of a commuity-managed (or at least, transparently managed) consortia that manages the “core” of what now is the open source part of open core offerings, and a purely proprietary company that provides the monetization services, may those be proprietary add-ons, paid services and so on.

Why? Because the current structure is not the most efficient to enable participation from outside groups- if you look at the various open core offerings, the majority of the code is developed from in-house developers, while on community-managed consortia the code may be originated by a single company, but is taken up by more entities. The best example is Eclipse: as recently measured, 25% of the committers work for IBM, with individuals accounting for 22%, and a large number of companies like Oracle, Borland, Actuate and many others with percentages that go from 1 to 7% in a collective, non-IBM collaboration.

Having then a pure proprietary company that sells services or add-ons also removes any possibility of misunderstanding about what is offered to the customer, and thus will make the need of a “OSS checklist” unnecessary. Of course, this means that the direction of the project is no longer in the hand of a single company, and this may be a problem for investors- that may want to have some form of exclusivity or guarantee of maintaining the control. But my impression is that there is only the illusion of control, because if there is a large enough payoff, forks will make the point moot (exactly like it happened with MySQL); and by relieving control, the company gets back a much enlarged community of developers and potential adopters.