Open source is sold and FOSS is not

Open source is sold and FOSS is not

Summary: If someone comes to you wearing a suit, a smile, and their hand out, it matters little what license their wares may carry. They're still a salesman. They're open source.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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I have spent many pleasant hours with Matt Asay's latest, "The wrong marketing for open source."

I think I finally figured it out. Matt says that FOSS software can't be sold while open source can be.

This is a feature, not a bug. It's why the GNU smiles.

Much of my confusion involves the GPL and FOSS. The GPL was created as a FOSS license but it remains the most popular open source license out there.

I explained the reason in my 2006 piece The Open Source Incline. Giving outside contributors the same rights you enjoy is the best way to encourage their participation. For an open source company the GPL helps drive development and the construction of a community, which it needs to thrive.

So the GPL, while created for FOSS, is also used by open source. And there remains a key difference between FOSS software and open source, which Matt nails. Open source is sold and FOSS is not.

What marks a FOSS project is not its license but the motivation behind it. A FOSS project is not driven by dreams of financial gain. It's driven by dreams of service, of shared effort helping all boats rise. The Mozilla Foundation is not about the Benjamins even though Firefox uses a Mozilla license rather than the GPL. Money keeps things moving but no one is getting rich.

Open source combines the shared effort of FOSS and marries it to the profit motive. Open source developers share code in order to sell support, or services, or products built using the code. The key word in the previous sentence is sell.

Open source is sold, FOSS is downloaded. Open source companies are looking for a profit, FOSS projects are looking to get by, to grow, to serve and to share.

Matt makes his living as an open source executive with Alfresco. Alfresco uses the GPL, but it's an open source company, not a FOSS project. Alfresco wants to make money. Making money is good.

But how much money? To an open source company, the answer is as much as possible. To a FOSS project the answer is enough to get by.

There is nothing wrong with either model. Both can, in fact, use the same licenses, or different licenses. But if someone comes to you wearing a suit, a smile, and their hand out, it matters little what license their wares may carry. They're still a salesman.

They're open source.

Topic: Open Source

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14 comments
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  • I'm confused

    Are you advocating breaking the GPL license by selling GPL based products by 'open source' companies?
    Linux Geek
    • We know (NT)

      seosamh_z
      • You're an idiot

        That we know.
        happyharry_z
    • Selling software is not a violation of the GPL

      Selling softare is not a violation of the GPL. Not in any way, shape or form. In the words of the free software foundation:

      http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

      In many ways, selling free software can actually be a good thing because it provides additional funds for development. Let's look at an example. I develop a backup program for Linux and Mac OS X called Time Drive.

      http://www.oak-tree.us/blog/index.php/science-and-technology/time-drive

      Because it's written in python and PyQt, this same program could be used on Windows. And a number of people have requested it, a shocking number have even offered to pay for it. But packaging this program for Windows is utterly miserable due to a number of unix only dependencies.

      But ... because people are willing to pay, I'm willing to modify my own source and the source of the upsteam packages to remove these dependencies. All of these source changes will be made available to the upstream projects and to the individuals purchasing the program, but I'm not going to spend the time working on packaging and distribution (which is miserable) to the exclusion of working on the program, which I enjoy because I'm a nice guy. (Because I'm not.) If I can make some money in the process, though, I can justify it.

      I'm still compliant with the GPL, and moreover, a number of Windows users are getting to use a program that wasn't available to them before. This is a win-win situation, made possible through the powers of the greens. Even the hard core zealots of the FSF understand this. You aren't doing free software any favors by forcing developers to work for free.
      Rob Oakes
      • I think there are a few key points in the GPL though

        By contrast, the GNU General Public
        License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software--to make sure the software is free for all its users. (GPL v2, page 1)

        General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (GPL v2, page 1)

        if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that
        you have. (GPL v2, page 1)

        Ultimately, any work product I put into a GPL'ed product goes into the wild to be capitalilzed on with no compensation to me. While the money making potential exists for me to "repackage" products or offer services that use GPL systems, there is no protection for any original innovations.

        The funny thing is that everyone focuses on "free as in freedom" when in fact the real issues comes from the right to share the software (this is in fact "free as in free beer").

        Call it what you like, the innovators and coders work for free while the business people make excess economic rents. Modern slavery at it's best (get people to work for free willingly; nice job guys!)
        happyharry_z
    • Re: I'm confused.

      No reason to be confused, Linux geek. Just don't go to this site if you want clear understanding. Go to fsf.org or gnu.org for a proper explanation of what Free software is. Open source is a different type of software to Free software. Free is freedom and, most of the time, Free price as well. HTH.
      crabby2k
  • Open source existed long before the GPL ...

    The term "open source" ONLY means that the developer makes the source code available for viewing. This means the product is NOT "closed source". These terms having nothing to do with whether or not the software is "free" or "proprietary". Yet the terms tend to get intermingled and confused.
    George Mitchell
  • Open source that is sold....

    is usually bundled with proprietary code. This has been an issue for the GPL for sometime. Some consider it a breach of the GPL license that has been swept under the rug.
    bjbrock
    • Not always

      JBOSS is GPL and it's "sold," in the sense that it is serious business software and has a sales force that works to convert downloaders into paid support.

      One key metric of success among open source companies is their "conversion rate." Can their marketing effort get more of those who downloaded the package to convert to paid support?

      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Configuration is also an issue ...

        Some GPL products, while available as source for free, are available in USABLE binary version ONLY as pay for software. The difference is that the pay for version comes fully configured and tweaked and, while the software is GPL, the configuration and tweaking are "service" and the vendor CAN charge for that. In the case of complex software products, proper configuration often means the difference between a useful product and an unusable product. That is why NOBODY would try to construct a Linux OS from RHEL source. Of course CentOS does just that, BUT it doesn't come with all the latest RHEL tweaks and configuration magic. You just can't get the real deal without paying and this DOES NOT violate the GPL.
        George Mitchell
  • You expose the software issue perfectly


    If Microsoft puts a retail box into Best Buy, it is pretty clear someone is making money. You decide if the product does something valuable enough to justify the retail price, and then you buy or don't buy.

    Who seriously wants to examine the motivation behind a project? Are you kidding me? People get software to solve a specific problem at a specific point in time. They couldn't care less about the motivation of the programmer.
    croberts
    • And...

      ...you've summed the key considerations up even better than the blog's author:

      "...Who seriously wants to examine the motivation behind a project? Are you kidding me? People get software to solve a specific problem at a specific point in time. They couldn't care less about the motivation of the programmer."

      I think that has always been the fundamental deficiency and failing with IS / IT communities throughout recent history: the inability to *really* consider the views of end-users - at the most logical and simplest of levels. You've just reminded us of that all pervasive shortfall.

      So let's examine things from a slightly different angle:

      *How?* - or even *Why?* the conceptualization, planning and design aspects of IS/IT projects are instigated are the last thing on end-users' minds when they purchase a COT's package or, as in this case, acquire FOSS - or (buy) an open source solution, as the case may be.

      "...You decide if the product does something valuable enough to justify the retail price, and then you buy or don't buy."

      And, if we're to all be perfectly honest, that is exactly *why* more people buy MS boxes at Best Buy - or for that matter, at any form of outlet - as opposed to choosing open source or FOSS. The saying goes that "familiarity breeds contempt"; that may be generally true, but it hasn't stopped the majority of bodies - corporate or otherwise - using (and willingly persisting) with MS products.

      When all's said and done, the onus will never be on MS to react to negative press about Windows and its other offerings, but (rightly so) is on Open Source and FOSS vendors to up their game to the point they make the 'average user' sit up, take notice and *seriously consider* moving to the alternatives.

      Lastly, it is fair to say, Open Source and FOSS have had better success in corporate data-centers in recent years, than they ever have had with the general public.

      ...but that is a whole new story.

      Thank you for the lucidity and clarity - it is always appreciated in a forum where hidden agendas and subterfuge are common currency.

      Regards.

      thx-1138_
  • You can sell service to FOSS and make money.

    There are plenty of companies out there who have a business plan to make money from various services - never 'selling' the actual software, which is thoroughly Free and Open Source, GPL, etc. Such as Ubuntu, for instance. It is possible to be in it for the money, but also to use pure true FOSS as well.
    ArtInvent
  • GPL NOT most popular !

    "Much of my confusion involves the GPL and FOSS. The GPL was created as a FOSS license but it remains the most popular open source license out there."

    I always smile when I read such rubbish, GPL is certainly THE LOUDEST, Open Source license out there.

    But as far as I know OSX is BSD Open Source licensed, BSD the core is Open Source.

    And if as claimed the "internet is driven by Open Source" I can only assume they are refering to Apache web servers, again thats not GPL it's the Apache License.

    So BSD is far larger than GPL and probably followedd up by the Apache license.

    You have to remember RMS's definition of FREE is not exactly the worlds definition of FREE.

    If you have to spend your life cause redefining the meaning of the word "FREE" to prove your point, you're backing a losing horse.
    Aussie_Troll