I am classically the pig at the ham and egg breakfast when it comes to the debate about the open core business model. The chicken at the breakfast is involved. The pig is committed. With that as my admitted bias, it's time for me to weigh in on the debate that has ensued around the open core business model.
“Open Core” was originally offered by Jaspersoft’s Andrew Lampitt as a new term to define the commercial open source software model that relies on a core, freely available (e.g., GPL) product architecture that is built openly with a community, all the copyrights for which are owned by the sponsoring vendor, and which includes premium features on top, wrapped entirely with a commercial license. T he 451’s Matt Aslett quickly used Andrew’s open core definition and relies on it within his most recent reports and articles. I would enhance Andrew’s definition by adding Jaspersoft’s current open core ideals: the core product is extended with commercially licensable add-ons (and those contributions come from Jaspersoft or its community), each extension comes with visible source code, community collaboration is encouraged (including feature “voting”) and we, as hosts of the community, actively monitor its health and vibrancy to ensure constant progress.
Roberto Galoppini properly infuses a heavy dose of being “community-driven” as key to any open source model. I agree and will expand below. Mat t Aslett recently re-stated his distinction between open core (he calls it “hybrid” in this recent post) and the embedded open source model. Matt believes the embedded model possesses long-term advantages and lower risks, which I think depends mostly on which open source product / project is embedded. And, a good bit of debate has ensued that seeks to label companies using the open core model as not substantially different than proprietary software companies. I believe this is nonsense as the distinctions between the open core software companies with which I’m familiar and traditional software companies are stark. To explain, I’ll cite my three primary reasons the open core approach provides the best opportunities for community and commercial success.
1. Community involvement in the core code is encouraged, while community “extensions” are not only plausible, but probable. The product “core” is built collaboratively with the Community and a non-restrictive license (e.g., GPL) ensures a variety of appropriate uses. A successful open core model should deliver a core (free) code base that is both substantial in its capabilities and successful in its Community.
2. Commercially-available extensions, a superset of the core and ideally with visible source code access, are provided, thus creating the value and assurance commercial customers often require to sign a commercial license. These extensions are made far more valuable because of the community-focused core code base acting as the underlying foundation.
3. The Community needs a healthy and growing group of Commercial customers to both legitimize the open source code base and ensure necessary financial success so the on-going advancement of the products / projects are assured. And, Commercial customers need the Community for the breadth of ideas and energy they represent, which helps the complete code base advance more rapidly and with higher quality than it ever could otherwise. Thus, the Community and Commercial customers form a necessary and symbiotic virtuous circle.
In this debate, some have claimed the only true and legitimate open source model is to provide identical community and commercial editions of the source code. The argument is that relying exclusively on services and support revenue will sufficiently sustain and that creating commercial extensions renders an open source company no different than a proprietary software company. Minimally, this argument misses a valuable history lesson. Most major software categories where open source has positively disrupted have required successful commercial open source companies to eventually use a model similar to open core, in order to continue growing. Think JBoss, Linux (Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell/openSUSE), SugarCRM, Hyperic, Talend, and of course, Jaspersoft. Done properly, the resulting broad use yields benefit and value to both the Community and Commercial customers. Accordingly, we at Jaspersoft take our community responsibilities as seriously as any commercial contract.
The pure open source model will continue to democratize software development and yield some commercial success. But to truly disrupt software categories where proprietary vendors dominate (and to deliver large new leaps in customer value), the open core model currently stands alone in its opportunity to deliver community progress and commercial success.
Chief Executive Officer
10 months ago