One of the hot topics here at the Community Leadership Summit in Portland is "what is an open source company ?". Simon Phipps has a got a lot of good points on this in his blog about Open Source Business.
We have companies like SugarCRM and Eucalyptus marketing themselves as "open source companies", even while not all of their code is available under an open source license.
To me it's clear that just because some of your product(s) is available under an open source license, you can't claim to be an open source company, as that would make the term meaningless. Under such a definition even Microsoft would be an open source company, as some of their products are now available as open source.
SugarCRM and Eucalyptus are clearly 'open core' companies, not open source companies. While open core is somewhat better than closed source, open core products have all the same disadvantages as closed source if you depend on a single feature of the closed parts for your business. In this case:
- You can't change, modify, port or redistribute the code.
- You can't fix bugs or extend the code.
- You are locked to the platforms that the vendor provides
- You are locked to one vendor.
In other words, the product as a whole should be regarded as a closed source product.
A little background why I feel so strongly about the term "open source company".
When MySQL AB was founded, David's and my intention was to create an open source company. Our definition was back then very simple "all software we produce should be under an open source license". When we took in investors we ensured that MySQL AB would stay as an open source company by putting a clause about this in our shareholder contracts.
David and I did however make a small mistake in that the shareholder agreement only said that "MySQL software" should be kept under an open source license. This allowed the MySQL management in 2006 to release Merlin, the MySQL monitor, as a closed source product, by claiming "this was not based on the MySQL server code". So even if we, the founders, managed to keep the MySQL server free, MySQL AB was only an "open source company" until 2006.
Learning from my mistake and to ensure that Monty Program Ab would always be an open source company, Zak Greant and I created the Hacking business model. Monty Program Ab follows this model and has additionally made a public promise that everything we create and release to our users will be under an open source license.
So what would then be a good definition for calling onces company "an open source company"?
I would like to suggest the following one:
1) You have to be a company that produces software.
2) All software the company delivers to its users must be available to everyone under an open source license. This includes all server code that is required to run and use the software.
In addition it would be good if the company could publicly state that all code they produce and release in the future will be under an open source license, but personally I would not require the company's to have to do this as some companies would have a hard time to do this.
At least here at the Leadership summit, the above definition seems to be acceptable to those that I have talked to. Please comment what you think about this!