James Dixon’s Blog

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Nuxeo: Open Core or Not?

with 14 comments

One of the participants in the latest round of open core bashing was Eric Barroca, CEO of Nuxeo. He chimed in with over 2000 words on why the open core model is ‘fundamentally flawed’ (his words). You can read his post if you click here.

In this post I am not trying to attack him or his company. But I think his post highlights how confusing and subjective this issue is.

Here are a few quotes from his post:

I’m deeply convinced that “open core” is fundamentally flawed

I would add that a subscription-based model (where subscription is for maintenance and support services) is superior (to an open core model)

I believe in clear business models. Successful companies use clear business models because that’s what enable trust from customers. Open core is not one of them: there is no clear line between open source / proprietary, neither serious justification for the customer.

That’s why we – at Nuxeo - won’t use the open core model even if it could increase short term revenue.

So Eric is fairly clear and outspoken about his view of the open core model. The following are snippets from the comments on the blog post

  • James Dixon – Maybe I have this wrong, but doesn’t Nuxeo Connect include ‘Premium Tools’?
  • Eric Barroca – Nuxeo Connect include SaaS. Not tools / code / additional features to apply on the open source software. Pretty much like RedHat for its OS or for JBoss. So, no, we’re not an open core company.
  • Rahul Sundaram – So let’s keep this simple: Is any part of Nuxeo that you sell proprietary code is it all 100% free and open source? Otherwise, the comparison to Red Hat model is invalid.
  • Eric Barroca – 100% of the code we sell / you install and run is LGPL. Period. So I think the comparison is very valid. :-)
Things get cloudy when you read Nuxeo’s marketing materials:
Nuxeo Studio, a newly released configuration and customization environment for Nuxeo open source ECM, is available as a value-added component of the Nuxeo Connect subscription service.
Customers subscribing to Nuxeo Connect are assured of service level agreements for problem resolution, access to certified patches, value-added design, configuration, monitoring and management tools, as well as product updates in accordance with our product lifecycle policy.

When Eric says ‘100% of the code we sell / you install and run is LGPL’, I guess that’s true. But it seems there is code they sell (via SaaS), that is not installed, and is not open.

So compare these two statements:
  • Customers of Nuxeo have access to value-added design, configuration, monitoring and management tools. These features are not open source, they are proprietary, and only available to customers. These features are available via a SaaS offering.
  • Customers of Pentaho have access to value-added design, configuration, monitoring and management tools. These features are not open source, they are proprietary, and only available to customers. These features are available on-premise.

As I understand it, having proprietary extensions to open source software – no matter how many extensions, or how many customers use them, or how they are delivered – makes you an open core company. As far as I see it the only difference between Nuxeo’s model and Pentaho’s model is that Nuxeo’s proprietary extensions are only available as SaaS, whereas Pentaho’s are available on premise.

If Pentaho stopped offering on-premise installations, and only offered SaaS, would Pentaho suddenly no longer be open core?

Do Nuxeo and Pentaho have different models, one open core, one not? If so, how come?

If Nuxeo and Pentaho have the same model, what model is it? Open core or what?

Who’s more confused, me or Eric?

Your thoughts?

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Written by James

April 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm

14 Responses

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  1. Hi James,

    I’m Florent Guillaume, director of R&D at Nuxeo.

    To clarify something about the Nuxeo offering, all of the software that an end-user interacts with is open source. The Nuxeo server does not include SaaS components, you have all the code available and it’s all open source.

    However, to help developers be more productive, we provide some helpers that are not open source and available only as SaaS (around our Nuxeo Connect subscription offer), but note that they are just (very convenient) visual tools to simplify management of XML files and the like. A developer always has the choice to do what all the Nuxeo developers had been doing until this became available, and which is described in our documentation: write XSD and XML files following our extension point mechanism.

    This is comparable, if I’m not mistaken, to the way that Red Hat offers JBoss Developer Studio.

    Again, the users interact only with open source software that’s running on-premise (or in the cloud if you’ve chosen Nuxeo DM Cloud Edition).

    I hope this clarifies things,
    Regards,
    Florent

    Florent Guillaume

    April 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    • “This is comparable, if I’m not mistaken, to the way that Red Hat offers JBoss Developer Studio.”

      I don’t see how. Can you expand on that?

      To be clear, JBoss Dev Studio is Eclipse + integrated JBoss components, all of which are open source

      http://www.jboss.com/products/devstudio/

      Rahul Sundaram

      April 9, 2010 at 7:32 am

  2. Thanks for the response, and clarification Florent.

    To my understanding the open core model has no distinction to do with the kinds of users that are impacted by the proprietary extensions.

    You provide some add-ons that lower cost of ownership and increase productivity for your customers. There is nothing wrong with this, but it happens to be the open core model.

    James Dixon

    James

    April 6, 2010 at 5:43 pm

  3. Hi James,

    If we use your definition, 95% of the software vendors are using an open core model… you’re kidding, right?! ;-)

    The open core model is precisely to have an open source software (that usually you own) and that you bundle as proprietary software alongside extensions / more code — unlike other model like the patron model (Day Software), the proprietary software embedding open source (all software vendors), the proprietary distribution (RedHat) or the proprietary service (RedHat, Ubuntu, Nuxeo). As Matthew Aslett described it in his classification of business models related to open source software, that I consider as a reference.

    So, if your question is: “does Nuxeo has a proprietary piece to its offering”, the answer is “yes, we do: we offer a proprietary service”. But stop asking about “code”: of course we have proprietary code to run our company and the services we offer (code for Nuxeo Connect, code for our website, code for the integration with our accounting system, code to manage the contracts, …). An open source license apply to a software, not to a company. There is no “open source business model” neither “open source company”. But open core is precise. As is SaaS, proprietary distribution or proprietary software. Let’s not mix everything.

    Hence, if your question is “does Nuxeo uses the open core model?”, the answer is “no, we don’t”. All the software you run is 100% open source because we think this is the best way to create a framework for collaborating around the software. We sell — as a subscription — maintenance, support and configuration/customization services. That’s not “open core”. That’s proprietary services sold as subscription. And we do it because we think it’s the best way to align customer value creation with revenue generation for the vendor.

    Does salesforce.com uses the open core model? I wouldn’t say so. MySQL? same. JBoss? same. Day Software? nope. Google? nope. RedHat? nope again. They all wrap proprietary offering with open source software in some ways. But it’s all different models.

    Open core has — in my eyes — one major issue: it’s proprietary software. Cause that’s what is sold when using an open core model. You sell usage right for binary and proprietary code. That’s the good old model. Leveraging an open source core does not change this fact.

    Last, I have 3 questions for you:

    – what is your line to choose where a feature go (to the open source core or to the proprietary offering)? how do you split your R&D efforts?

    – why do you have an “open core”? why not a free proprietary version with a clear API and for-a-fee plugins?

    – what impact has the community on your open source core?

    I am genuinely interesting in those questions. Maybe that’s just what missing to better understand your model => and that’s why I don’t like open core. It’s not clear.

    Cheers,

    EB.

    PS: and that will be my last big post in this debate but would be very pleased to continue over a diner if you like.

    Eric Barroca

    April 6, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    • Can you let me know how you view Red Hat as a proprietary distribution or service?

      Rahul Sundaram

      April 9, 2010 at 7:49 am

  4. Thanks for the response Eric. This is an interesting debate.

    We obviously do not agree on what the open core model is.

    Open core is not proprietary software. It is open source software with proprietary extensions and add-ons.

    Nuxeo sells usage rights for proprietary code, just like we do. The fact that yours is available only via a web UI is not relevant to me.

    You attack the open core model. But you are not operating a pure-play model. You are not like OpenNMS (kudos to them for making it work for them), they have a pure open source model and are entitled to not like the open core model. Your model is 99% open core as far as I can tell. If the open core model is fundamentally flawed, then you model is equally flawed.

    Nuxeo must also decide what features go into open source and which ones go into Nuxeo Studio. Nuxeo must wrestle with the issue of making the open source software easier to install and configure, because if you do, you will erode the TCO advantage of your proprietary features. This is the issue with the open core model, and it’s the same issue you have. The thing that everyone seems to ignore is that widespread adoption of the open source software is vital to an effective open code model. You cannot achieve this if the open source software is hobbled/crippled/demoware.

    Unless you have a pure open source model with 0% proprietary code, any attack you make on the open core model is hypocritical.

    Your three questions are good ones. I’ll get to those later. But the same questions can apply equally to Nuxeo can’t they?

    James

    P.S. dinner or drinks sounds great

    James

    April 6, 2010 at 11:11 pm

  5. Sorry to belabor the point but I want this to be completely clear:

    Nuxeo products do not use proprietary code, and are not open core; they are fully open source. All the features of our products that we advertise are open source, there are no additional features or add-ons or plugins for which you don’t get the code or that you only get if you license them.

    Nuxeo services, on the other hand, yes, may use proprietary code. Our ticketing system, CRM system, documentation software, and Nuxeo Studio, use proprietary code, some written by third parties, some written by us. This has no bearing on the fact that the Nuxeo *product* does not.

    And it doesn’t make sense to ask if some feature should go in the Nuxeo products or in Nuxeo Studio — think of Nuxeo Studio on the same level as a plugin for an IDE. A plugin for an IDE helps developers, it doesn’t add or remove anything to the end product that’s created with the IDE.

    Florent Guillaume

    April 6, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    • Like I said, we don’t agree on the definition of open core, and I don’t think we are likely to at this rate.

      If you have any proprietary code at all, you are not a pure play open source vendor. You cannot possibly be. That’s part of the definition of ‘pure’.

      It doesn’t matter how your proprietary code fits into the picture, you are extending an open source codebase with proprietary features – addon, plug-in, extension, or whatever. Pentaho delivers proprietary features on top of our open source software in the form of plug-ins and separate services – that makes us open core. Nuxeo does the same thing.

      James

      James

      April 7, 2010 at 3:49 am

  6. I think rather that we don’t agree on the definition of product vs. service.

    As I said, we don’t extend the Nuxeo open source codebase with any proprietary add-on, plugin or extension.

    And I beg to disagree with your “it doesn’t matter how your proprietary code fits into the picture”. If we have proprietary code to manage our documentation wiki (targeted to developers in exactly the same way that Nuxeo Studio is), is that relevant?

    Florent

    Florent Guillaume

    April 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    • I wasn’t including proprietary code like that to manage the doc wiki in this discussion.

      The code in Nuxeo Studio is proprietary IP that you own and sell.

      Answer this. Why don’t you put the Nuxeo Studio into open source? Wouldn’t it be of value to the community?

      James

      James

      April 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      • I’m trying to explain something more complex than keeping with “. That’s not how open core is defined by the market, or any software company is an open core company. If it’s the case, you have a proprietary model because you sell proprietary software. Using open source is not a differentiator these days, “this is how software gets written” (as Ian Skerrett recently said) regardless of the model.

        At Nuxeo, we sells a service (Connect). This service includes Studio, which is a customization service (as well as maintenance, support and insurance). Pentaho, as an Open core company sells a proprietary product.
        Salesforce.com sells a service. Sage sells a product. Same difference. Does Salesforce use a proprietary software model? no they don’t (no more than an open core one).

        And that’s what is important because it define the way we deliver value to our customers. We do it through services, open core does it as license fees. The net/net of this is the customer chooses if they want to subscribe to our service offering and they are not shackled right out of the gate into buying proprietary licenses. If the see value in our Connect offering (which includes Studio) then they buy it. If not, that’s fine. But in all cases they are using the same software in production, with the same license (which is the LGPL).

        You say it doesn’t change anything and all approaches are the same. I disagree. Or the open core approach is no different from the pure proprietary software model (you sell a usage right for a product, after all, the % of open source code in the final product doesn’t matter — they all have open source code inside).

        The delivery method matters. For proprietary software as well as for open source software. That’s how you deliver value to customers. And that’s how we make your money as a vendor. So I believe it does matter and all approaches are not the same.

        Thanks,

        EB.

        Eric Barroca

        April 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm

  7. Ok, here is one confusion. In the open core model usually there is no license fee, only a subscription.

    The whole point of the model is that the adoption and distribution mechanisms allows the license fee to be removed.

    We have to provide value every year, otherwise customers won’t renew their subscriptions.

    You sell a subscription to a hosted product. We sell a subscription to an on-premise product.

    James

    James

    April 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

  8. […] software for which the source code is not available. Coincidentally, James Dixon has this week highlighted one example in the form of Nuxeo Studio, a configuration and customization environment for the Nuxeo ECM […]


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