SugarCRM 6 community and commercial diverge

What commercial customers pay for is, in part, the community they become honored members of. When a key part of a product is no longer accessible to the community, its value is reduced to paying customers.

Long time fans (both of you) may remember our 2006 classic, Is SugarCRM open source?

Back then the issue was badges, Sugar's insistence on getting credit for every screen produced, and a non-standard license enforcing this. In time Sugar and the OSI made nice, open source legend Larry Augustin was brought in to make SugarCRM a market playa, and the bad old days were forgotten.

Well, they're back, but this time the issue isn't a license. This time it's a divergence between community and commercial distributions with the launch of Sugar 6 CRM, its latest version. (NOTE: For more on the new program's features, see Paula's excellent run-down.)

The commercial version now claims to go head-to-head against market leader Salesforce.com, but the new user interface is pay-only, leading some at Slashdot to question the company's open source bonafides (again).

The money quote is probably this one, from spokesman Martin Schneider. "Open source doesn't mean free and was never really meant to mean free." True to the letter of the open source law but, as with the badges issue, not true to the spirit.

Rather than arguing Sugar's right to do this while maintaining its open source credentials, let me ask this question. Who will enhance this new interface? Who is going to test it, and nurture it, and grow it?

Sugar's answer is Sugar and its paying customers. But if the user interface is a key element to the product, how is it going to progress the way the rest does?

What commercial customers pay for is, in part, the community they become honored members of. When a key part of a product is no longer accessible to the community, its value is reduced to paying customers.

It has always been assumed that, if a product is "open core," that is if it's open source at the center with commercial enhancements, that someone can implement the free version. It may be missing some support, some bells and whistles, but that has always been assumed to be the deal.

Now there is an important point to be made here. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is complex stuff. It's something scaled organizations do -- big charities, big businesses, big government. It's not an application for the timid. Trying to do it by yourself, trying to do it free, well if you succeed you're a better man than I am.

But that's just my point. When someone does that they gain expertise and create value the company behind the project should be able to take advantage of. If they don't you haven't lost anything from their download. So why shut yourself off from it?

With Sugar 6 CRM, Sugar is pushing the boundaries again. If you can't implement the open source version of a product, is it still open source? And if its community is locked out, does a program really have open source value?

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