I've written before about the sometimes negative impact that commercial vendors can have on open source projects. (See Should commercial open source vendors "own" an open source community?) Some business models and business practices of open source vendors (trying to control all committers and commits, withholding enhancements and fixes from community versions, etc) seem to turn an open source project into something that looks a lot like a proprietary software product. Unfortunately, these practices are becoming more and more prevalent.
I'm not against commercial vendors making money from open source. In fact, we do it at OpenLogic by selling support, services and tools around open source. But I'm convinced that if open source vendors take this trend towards more control too far, it could backfire on them. Communities could decide to take back control by forking or creating new competing projects.
Here's an example of how that may be playing out. Stephen O'Grady at RedMonk writes about this in a recent post about MySQL. In it he describes the implications of MySQL's the dual licensing model:
"A single entity such as MySQL is responsible for the overwhelming majority of all development on a given codebase. Anything they don’t produce themselves, they license. Very often this is practiced in conjunction with the dual-license model; because MySQL is responsible for virtually all of the development of the core code, they own or have licensed appropriately all of the involved IP. As such, they’re free to issue commercial licenses to those who would cannot or choose not to comply with the terms of the open source license - the GPL, in this case."
But according to Stephen, this model also has a significant downfall.
"Stated more simply: as long as MySQL remains committed to the dual licensing model, it will be unable to accept the same patch set that open source only versions of the code can, because they do not share the same licensing concerns. "
In the case of MySQL, the result is that other projects are popping up to offer "better versions" of MySQL that includes patches from the community or to offer alternatives to MySQL. Although, to date, this has not had a significant impact on MySQL, I can see that it could in the future. In their understandable search for revenue, commercial open source vendors could find that the community model they embrace could backfire.
I personally like the idea that the open source communities (with the benefit of open source licenses) can provide checks and balances to keep commercial open source vendors true to the open source development model.
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