Commercial open source is possible

It was the exception to the rule: Matt Asays latest blog entry was interesting.  It asked the question: “Is commercial open source possible?“.  The interesting part actually comes from quotes from Lawrence Lessigs book Remix.

The whole discussion revolves around the awkwardness of asking for money in an open source setting.  A few of the original quotes to illustrate:

What if Wal-Mart asked all customers to ‘pitch in and help Wal-Mart by sweeping at least one aisle each time you shop?


Money in the sharing economy is not just inappropriate; it is poisonous.

My take on this is that for sure there are developers out there that would rather die than pay anything for open source software.  In enterprise software like Pentaho Data Integration you encounter a mixture of these developers-rolled-into-ETL-designers over regular ETL designers to business users. As such, the awkwardness of the situation depends on the type of user and the type of situation he or she is in.

On top of that, software being open source or not, shouldn’t matter to these users except for the fact that it lowers risks and costs.  No, personally I see commercial open source as an extremely viable and very possible alternative, especially now that risk and cost are that big on the agenda in a lot of companies.

If I look around in my community, I don’t see any complaints about the fact that you have to pay to receive training, services or enterprise support.  Some might complain that you have to pay too much, but that group of people will always exist no matter how cheap you sell support.  I even had one person ask me why $50 wouldn’t be enough for professional support!

How about squashing bugs that bite customers with priority?  Would that tick off our community?  Not showing any signs so far because that’s what we’ve been doing.   In fact, I think most community members want Pentaho to do well since it ensures long term viability of the software.  Here’s a question I can’t answer myself but perhaps a lot of people are seeing the company behind the software as being part of the community.  Or perhaps they should.

My take on this whole thing: a couple of nice quotes don’t make a nice idea.  In turbulent times, it’s important to keep you eyes on the future and away from the dusty past.  The days that an open source developer was a sandal wearing bearded stranger are long gone.  At the same time our customers are learning open source is business as usual.  Better? Cheaper? Sure!  But nevertheless still business as usual.

Until next time,

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