James Dixon’s Blog

James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

Archive for June 4th, 2008

Re: CAOS Theory Podcast 2008.05.30

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The open source analysts at the 451 Group, Raven Zachary, Matt Aslett, and Jay Lyman have started bi-weekly podcasts. They offer an interesting perspective on open source and commercial open source and I have enjoyed the ones they have made so far. They have a pragmatic and balanced opinion on most things. I like the fact that they are only 30 minutes long, the most recent FLOSS weekly is 1:24 long I haven’t found the time to listen to it yet.

There were a few comments made in the May 30th podcast I do not agree with completely. These comments could have been ‘slip of the tongue’ or not come out as they intended them to so I’m not holding it against them.

Monetizing Developers
Jay Lyman (I think) said that ‘MySQL wants to widen its development community in order to have a larger opportunity to monetize’. To my mind this is the wrong model and not what MySQL is trying to do at all. The MySQL developer community is the one group of people who least need any product or service from MySQL.

Let’s say it became possible to physically copy a car and transport it anywhere in the world for near zero cost. Lets say your business model was to sell upgrade installations, oil changes, and tire rotations etc to people who took these ‘free’ cars. Your target market in this case is not auto-enthusiasts who have a garage full of tools and who love to tinker with engines. Your target market is people who do not have the time, the knowledge, or the inclination to get their hands dirty maintaining their car. Your target market is people who know little to nothing about cars and are happy to give you money so they can remain blissfully ignorant.

The market of users is far larger than the technically proficient population and each user is more likely to pay for a service. The other major issue is that the developers are individuals and the potential customers are organizations. Monetizing the developers directly is actually almost impossible. The developers don’t have any budget, but their manager, or manager’s manager might. In the last 10 years I personally have been monetized once for $40: I bought documentation for JFreeChart but never expensed it.

GPL Education
Raven Zachary (again I think) said that some legal teams have banned GPL for internal usage in companies but that this was an education issue that should resolve itself over time. The GPL is a viral license that was not created to meet the needs of businesses. The most popular dual license model amongst commercial open source vendors at the moment is the GPL/Commercial dual license. These licenses are chosen to provide options at either end of the spectrum: a very pro-open source option and a very pro-business option. The GPL is not deliberately anti-business but it is anti-intellectual-property. For certain usages in many businesses this equates to the same thing. In the absence of very careful governance and auditing corporate lawyers are taking steps to protect their companies from a credible and unquantified risk. I would say that governance and auditing and control is needed by these companies, not the education of their lawyers.

Written by James

June 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

What does free as in beer mean? What does free as in speech mean?

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I am writing this for people for whom English is a second language or who are not from North America and who don’t understand what these statements mean.

These terms would be easier if the words ‘free as in gratis’ and ‘free as in liberty’ were used instead. However we seem to be stuck with the ‘Speech’ and ‘Beer’ ones.

The problem is that the word ‘free’ in English has more than one meaning, some dictionaries give 15 or more different ones. These include

  • Not imprisoned or enslaved; being at liberty. Not subject to external restraint:
  • Costing nothing; gratuitous

These two meanings are very different from each other and unfortunately some topics need to include both ideas. This is particularly true of discussions about open source and free software. In fact the term ‘open source’ was deliberately chosen not to include the word ‘free’ because of the confusion it brings. The terms ‘free as in speech’ and ‘free as in beer’ are used to clarify which meaning of ‘free’ is being used.

‘Free as in speech’ means something that has freedoms or liberties associated with it. It does not mean the same freedoms that come with ‘free speech’ just that liberties are involved.

‘Free as in beer’ means something that costs nothing to obtain.

The wikipedia entry for ‘Gratis verses Libre’ explains things nicely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis#Gratis

Written by James

June 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Posted in open source

Re: What Does Open-Source Adoption Change? (CIO.com blogathon)

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What you are describing is a change in behavior needed in order for consumers of a new technology to adopt it. This pretty much describes the source of Geoffrey Moore’s famous ‘Chasm’. If open source is ‘not necessarily better or worse’ it will have a hard time crossing this chasm. In order for open source to be adopted it will have to be ‘necessarily better’ otherwise the effort needed to change behavior will not be worth it.

The commercial open source situation is that you can modify the software and support yourself if you want but you don’t have to (if you have paid for a subscription). The organic open source situation is that you can and might have to modify the software (by paying for development time). Either way you have to pay and this is why open source is ‘free as in speech’ not ‘as in beer’. At least open source gives you the choice of how you want to pay.

My experience in the last few ISVs that I worked for was that open source was downloaded and used because it was quick and easy. There was no procurement cycle, budget approval, or any other process needed to get Apache Tomcat, for example. It was partly the lack of governance that made open source attractive. When we hit problems it sometimes took significant time and effort to resolve them. This effort was ‘silently’ absorbed. Overall it was still cheaper and quicker to get the job done using open source. Essentially this was an IT department/developer-level issue and not a ‘company’ one. It was smooth and without friction but also without any auditing or control. This is where it gets awkward. If you want to manage the adoption of open source in a company you need apply some standards or governance procedures but the very act of doing this could make open source less attractive to IT developers. A careful balance needs to be set.

Written by James

June 4, 2008 at 12:45 pm