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Independence of Open Source Software

I will never forget the first time I piloted an airplane solo. The moment the wheels separated from the runway the feeling of free flight could be felt in my stomach. Similar to the feeling you get cresting the top of a roller coaster. The difference with flying is that you can move in any direction. When I think of “independence”, the feeling of freedom is what immediately comes to mind; I am uninhibited to move in any direction that I want.

In the previous blog (Innovation) I touched on the fact that the world of Open Source is an ecosystem. It would be a mistake to believe that Open Source is simply a pile of source code. Just like the food chain in our real-world ecosystem, Open Source is a linked system as well. Linux allows for the use of databases, databases allow for the use of organized and efficient data storage, GUIs make the access of organized storage very usable to the human. This is an oversimplification of a very complex set of dependencies in the Open Source community.

But the reality is, when one of the dependencies (otherwise known as an Open Source Project) becomes limited in capability or altogether unavailable, it impacts everything downstream that was built upon that project. This is where the concept of dual licensing by the investor community is starting to show its ugly head. By limiting the usability of Open Source they are in fact limiting the use of everything downstream.

I like to fish, and the key to a great fisherman is to present the lure as real life as possible. You want that fish to think it’s getting the tastiest meal of the day. The same goes for the dual licensing model. What the investment community is saying is this: we like the Open Source license because it develops a market interest in our project; we like the commercial license because it drives revenue into our coffers. It is akin to the strategy of a drug dealer: here’s a couple of hits on the house; now that you’re hooked we’re going to vacuum every dime you have out of your pockets.

Hear me clearly, profit is good. But there are two kinds of profit: one fuels operations, growth, and continued innovation; the second fills an individual’s pockets with excess. When software companies create an arbitrarily proprietary situation, their sole goal is the latter type of profit. They call it “Shareholder Value” or “Barrier to Entry”. The reality is that it is nothing more than a mechanism to crank up profit. Notice I used the term “arbitrarily proprietary”; this is because I do believe innovation requires investment, and the development of new ideas should be protected with existing intellectual property laws (e.g., patents, trademarks, and copyrights). In the world of software, an example of arbitrarily proprietary would be user licensing: i.e., our software is the same, except for up to ten users there is no charge, beyond ten users there is a fee.

When your go-to-market strategy is simply price-based on user counts, it’s effectively communicating, ‘we care more about sucking money out of you than serving you!’ If my problem involves 17 people, why should I pay for 50 simply because that is where you drew the price break line? Or, my favorite one (real-life example I am currently dealing with): I purchased an accounting system with 10 seat licenses at $70 per seat per month; adding one (1) more seat moves us up from the “lite” version to the “premium” version (same exact functionality), but my per-seat cost for all 11 users now jumps to $140 per seat per month. Yes, basically adding one more user will cost an additional $770 per month in order to jump from 10 to 11.

Open Source is about allowing the consumer to decide what is of value and importance to them, and what is not. True freedom in software comes from being able to mold software into the exact tool you need in order to solve your specific problem.

Coming Next… Income of Open Source Software 

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