Archive for March, 2010

A small and unscientific exploration of OSS license use

I was intrigued by an excellent (as usual) post by Matthew Aslett of 451 group, titled “On the fall and rise of the GNU GPL“, where Matthew muses on the impact of cloud computing and other factors in the decreasing role of the GPLv2 versus other type of licenses. Simon Phipps twittedyou only consider number of projects and not volume of deployed code. I have never found number of projects compelling” which is something that I absolutely believe is true: it is, however, quite difficult to imagine other possible ways to measure “impact” of a project. Do we have to add a weight related to usage? Then, given the large use of Linux, GNOME or KDE, OpenOffice, Firefox we would probably see a huge jump in the GPL and MPL percentages, at the cost of added uncertainty (as usage estimates are variable at best). As I am desperately try to avoid doing real work, I started using the Ohloh web site to extract slightly less than 100 projects (among the “active” ones, so there is already an initial preselection), along with the licensing and the number of committers for each project. My idea was to measure not only the number of projects, but how many people contributes to each, to see if this scenario gives different percentages. In a sense, the number of committers is a measure of “activity” or community interest in a project, and so my idea was to see if there was a difference between the percentages obtained with only the amount of projects listed under a license, and the number of committers using a license. The result is this:

license projects committers %projects %committers blackduck %
gpl2 49 15878 52.1% 62.9% 48.83
lgpl 8 2286 8.5% 9.1% 9.35
mit 6 1668 6.4% 6.6% 4
bsd 8 1150 8.5% 4.6% 6.26
gpl3 3 988 3.2% 3.9% 5.5
php 2 730 2.1% 2.9% 0.24
cddl 1 673 1.1% 2.7% 0.32
mpl 2 655 2.1% 2.6% 1.22
apache 10 557 10.6% 2.2% 4.02
boost 1 266 1.1% 1.1%
epl 2 241 2.1% 1.0% 0.46
python 1 133 1.1% 0.5%
cpl 1 6 1.1% 0.0% 0.56

The result is interesting: first of all, by looking in terms of contributors, the GPLv2 has an higher percentage of committers than that of projects; that is, there are more committers per project under the GPLv2 in respect to the normal share. The percentage of projects obtained is similar to that from BlackDuck (52.1% versus 48.83%), so I think that there is not too much bias in the choice of projects. The LGPL has more or less its fair share of committers, on a par with the number of projects and the results from BlackDuck. MIT is slightly higher, both in projects and commits, while the GPLv3 is under-represented – probably because the sample is too small, and in the project selection the “new” projects under the GPLv3 simply were not among the first 100 or so selected. A substantial difference exist for Apache-licensed projects, where the average number of committers seems smaller than its fair share; this may be an artefact of the project selected, or may be simply an effect of how Ohloh measures the active committers (I find strange that Boost has half of all the committers of all the Apache projects together!)

As I said, this is a little, unscientific experiment designed to explore what we can invent to better measure the “impact” of an OSS project. I would love to receive you comments and suggestions; on my side, I will try to leverage the FLOSSMETRICS database to try to find some numbers on a more consistent data sample.

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How to analyse an OSS business model – part three

Welcome to the third part of  our little analysis of OSS business models (first part here, second part here). It is heavily based on the Osterwalder model, and follows through the examination of our hypothetical business model reaching the “key resources” part. After all the theoretical parts, we will try to add a simple set of hands-on exercises and tutorials based on a more or less real case.

The argument of this part is “resources”. Key resources are the set of assets (material and immaterial) that are the basis of the company operations. There may be physical resources (a production plant for example), intellectual resources (previously developed source code), human resources (your developers), financial resources (capital in the bank, loans) and other immaterial assets (your company name as a recognizable mark, “good standing” in terms of how your customer see your products…)

In our OSS company example, at least part of the immaterial assets are shared and publicly available, that is they are non rival. In our model we have a company that provides under an open source license the community edition of the software, while provides an “enterprise edition” with additional stability tests, support and so on. It is not correct to say that just because the source code is publicly available it is not monetizable; on the contrary, especially when the code is wholly owned in terms of copyright assignments it is potentially a valuable asset (for some examples, look at JBoss or MySQL). Even when the code is cooperatively owned (as in a pure GPLv2 with multiple contributors, like Linux) the “default place” is valuable in itself, and it is the reason why so many companies try to make sure that their code is included in the main kernel line, thus reducing future integration efforts and sharing the maintenance activities. Other examples that are relevant for the OSS case are trademarks (that are sometimes vigorously defended), “brand name”, the external ecosystem of knowledge; for example, all the people that is capable of using and managing a complex OSS offering, creating a networked value that grows with the number of participants in the net. People becoming RedHat certified, for example, increases the value of the RedHat ecosystem other than their own.

One of the most important resource is human: the people working on your code, installing it, supporting it. Most of those people in the OSS environment are not part of your company, but are an extremely important asset on their own thanks to their capability of contributing back time and effort. In exchange, these resources need to be managed, and that’s why you need sometimes figures like “community managers” (an excellent example is my friend Stefano Maffulli, community manager extraordinaire at Funambol) because exactly as you have a financial officer to check your finance (another essential resource) you should have a community manager for… the community.

To properly analyse your key resources, we can extend the network model created for the channel analysis (the actor/action model) and extend it a little bit, including the missing pieces. For example, we mentioned that a potential customer may be interested in our product. Who makes it? Of course, as any good OSS company, you have some pieces coming from the outside (other OSS projects), part coded by your developers and part coming as contribution from external groups. All of them are resources: the other OSS projects are key resources themselves, simply obtained without immediate cost but managed by some developers that are themselves a key resources; your internally developed source code is another key resource, and if you have large scale contributions from the outside those should be considered resources too, maybe not “key” resources but important nevertheless.

The main concept is: a resource is “key” if without it your company would not be able to operate; and whenever you have a key resource you should have a person that manages it with a clearly defined process.

Next: cost structure!

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