2013-06-25

Business Source (A software license with some Open Source aspects)

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed on ZDNET about how to create successful software company in todays world.

I assume that because the original article also mentioned my other project, MariaDB, some people jumped to the wrong conclusion about my intentions or what I was trying to achieve.

For those that want to know more about Business Source, there is now an academic article in TIM (Technology Innovation Management Review) that one can read. The article is written by Linus Nyman and me.

To clarify some misunderstandings, here is a short list of what the Business Source license is all about:
  • Business Source is not an Open Source license. It's a commercial software license that offers the users many of the benefits of an Open Source license.
  • Business Source means that all source code is available from day one and that most (but not all) users can use it any way for free. After a time delay the software becomes Open Source.
  • Business Source was never intended for the MariaDB server. MariaDB is GPL and will always be that. I could not change the license for the MariaDB server even if I wanted to (and I never wanted to make MySQL or MariaDB closed source or Open core).
  • I truly belive that Open Source is a better way to develop software. However as an entrepreneur I recognize that it's very hard to create a software development company around Open Source. Dual licenses works for some cases (especially for infrastructure and embeddable software like MySQL), but doesn't work for a lot of software. It's also very hard to fund development with services (support, development, consulting...) as the profit from these (typically 30%) are not enough to maintain a development organization in many cases.
  • For a software company that wants to do development and compete with closed source companies on similar economic terms, Business Source offers a viable alternative to closed source or open core. For a user of the software, Business Source is always better than Open Core as Open Core doesn't offer for it's user ANY of the advantages of Open Source.
  • While searching for companies that my investment company, Open Ocean Capital, can invest into, I have been talking with a lot of entrepreneurs about how to make money on their software. In some cases where the entrepreneurs would like to release their software as Open Source but don't know how to make enough money to support development, I have told them to take a look at Business Source. As an Open Source/Free Software advocate it feels a bit bad to have to turn away some companies from Open Source, but I think that in the long run it's better that the companies succeed and produces good software that is accessible to anyone under reasonable terms. Compared to other license models, at least with Business Source the software will eventually become Open Source.
The article should hopefully explain any other questions you have about Business Source. If not, feel free to comment on this blog and I will do my best to clarify things.

By the way, I am not totally happy with the term "Business Source" as there is already a company that uses this name. Business Source (or Source for Business) is however the best term I have come up with for this license so far. If you have a better suggestion for the name, please write me a comment!

14 comments:

Lin said...

I find it interesting that someone like you would advocate for a license like this when you have personally benefited so much from a true open license.

Let's not forget that MariaDB wouldn't exist without MySQL being truly open source. Where would we be today if you had sold MySQL to Oracle under a "Business Source" license?

Bob Bickel said...

To be honest, I'm not quite sure I fully digest this new model and who gets forced to pay and for how long.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on our new "curated source" model we are using at RedLine - https://www.redline13.com/blog/curated-source-code/. It combines with a new model for distributing cloud based infrastructure services. Thanks, Bob

Monty said...

When it comes to who should pay, the idea behind Business Source is that one should only target a small segment (one in hundred or one in thousand) that should pay.

In database terms, this could be if you have a database cluster of more than 5 machines or a database bigger than 10G.

The smaller the segment that has to pay, the bigger spread you get for the product. The segment should however not be too small as then you will not be able to get paid for the development that you are doing.

If you achieve the above, it's a win-win situation for everyone. Most users gets a free product and those that needs it for their critical business will help ensure that you survive and have enough money to continue development of the product.

Of course it makes sense to bundle the license with support to give another value to the companies that is paying for the product.

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Sebastian Kreutzberger said...

Monty, thank you so much for your work on that new kind of license.

At RhodeCode, we faced exactly the same issues of finding the best solution to commercialize our already widely-used Open Source SCM without alienating the OS community.

We took your license and used the amount of users inside the system as limit. Additionally we added an unlimited & free offering to NGO's and educational institutions and open source projects.

So far, the open source community AND our enterprise clients like the new licensing since it is fair for all of them.

Monty, thank you so much for your work and the sharing of your for us very valuable insights about how to turn MySQL into a commercially sound open source venture.

You can check out our stuff here:
Product using the license: https://rhodecode.com/enterprise
The licenses themselve: https://rhodecode.com/licenses

All the best,

Sebastian Kreutzberger, CEO
RhodeCode GmbH

Max said...

What about "tiime-delayed open source" ?

Michael "Monty" Widenius said...

To Max:

Do you mean, to use "time delayed open source" as another name for Business source?

The problem I have with this is mainly that some closed source project has used this terminology and the name sounds 'too specific' so that people may just based on the name think they know what this mean.

I think that "Time-delayed open source" would be a good base name for all licenses of this type.

Business source assumes that you from start allow anyone full access to all the source code, so that any developer can modify the source to fit their purposes.
In addition, the license should be target to a small segment so that most users can use it for free.

The best thing to do would probably to do like they do with creative commons and provide a small set of standardized license types that people can choose from for their projects.

That way one would quickly be able to know what "business source", and other time-delayed open source licenses, means.

Michael "Monty" Widenius said...

To Sebastian:

Nice that you liked and are using the ideas from Business Source!

Please come back after 6 months and share your experience of how things works out!

The more success companies has with this license, the easier it will be to get it known and accepted by others!

Yauheni Akhotnikau said...

It is very interesting. But I want to clarify one moment. Suppose I ship version 1.0 of my project in 2013 with notice that code become fully free in 2017 (after three years). Then in 2014 I want to ship version 1.1 of my project. Can I specify 2018 as year of code become fully free in license for 1.1? Or I should use 2017 as for version 1.0?

Michael "Monty" Widenius said...

To Yauheni Akhotnikau:

You should use 2018 for the next version.

The idea with Business Source is that as long as you continuously develop the project, people will want to have the latest version and you will be able to make money on it.

It's only if you stop developing the project that the license income is likely to stop as everyone is using a free version.

Business source will in effect provide a safety net for your users; Even if you stop developing the software, they can still continue to use and improve upon in. This is in contrast to close source or open core where you are stuck if the project is not developed anymore.

Lester Robbins said...

When you say "not exactly an Open Source License" what benefits does Business Source excludes itself from the actual thing?

Michael "Monty" Widenius said...

To Lin:

With MySQL we used dual licensing to get license money from a small part of our user base. This enabled us to get money for development, investors and finally to be sold to Sun.

Business source is meant for companies that produces software for which dual licensing doesn't work. These companies also needs to find a way to get money to pay for full time developers.

Dual licensing only works for infrastructure products that other companies want to include with their commercial closed source product.

kamal sharma said...

when you have personally benefited so much from a true open license.

exist without MySQL being truly open source. Where would we be today if you had sold MySQL to php under a Business Source license.

Richard Weinberger said...

Business source is meant for companies that produces software for which dual licensing doesn't work. These companies also needs to find a way to get money to pay for full time developers.


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