This morning I caught Simon Phipps’ dent about a 451 CAOS Theory report by Matthew Aslett, “The golden age of open source?” In that report, Aslett describes our arriving at a fourth stage of commercial open source. This fourth stage is highlighted by a return to community and collaboration. Examples given are ones where different entities are collaborating on creating new open source communities without a goal being to monetize it directly.
Phipps’ recent post, “Is the ‘Open Source Bubble’ Over?“, talks on the same topic and says that the true open source way has always been community and collaboration. He and Aslett refer to Stephen O’Grady’s post, “The State of Open Source: Startup, Growth, Maturity or Decline?“, which is rich with trend analysis over the years to show that some projects are in maturity, but overall open source is growing with all the return to community and collaboration.
This is a really exciting point they are making. As many people know, a hallmark of Red Hat’s activities in open source has always been a focus on upstream collaboration and scaffolding for strong communities. When we acquire a company with an existing codebase or open source community, you see a clear set of moves. Codebases are released under open source licenses to spur the greatest open community we can, where Red Hat actively participates. Communities are grown without an attempt to control the intellectual property.
This re-emphasis of the communities that include vendors and customers acting equally on common needs was described in 2004 by Michael Tiemann in ‘The Open Source Triple Play‘. I regularly redraw this image to explain how and why Red Hat does business:
I was tickled that Aslett included JBoss as an example of the third stage, which he summarized with the first two:
While the first two stages were focused on collaborative development as a by-product of open source licensing the projects and vendors that characterized the third stage were focused on market disruption through widespread distribution and typically eschewed the potential advantages of collaborative development in favour of control over the future development of the project.
When Red Hat acquired JBoss, the clear methodology they had was to hire anyone from the community who started to do any real work with the open source codebase. This kept all the copyright in the company, what I once heard JBoss founder Marc Fleury refer to as a “strong IP” position – strength in holding intellectual property. But this was at the downfall of a strong community – it couldn’t stand well on its own if every active contributor was hired to be part of the same corporation. To an extent, this was incurring the cost of a closed development model where you have to pay for every developer hour, while not gaining the supposed benefits of a product that can’t be downloaded and freely distributed without you being paid.
As Simon Phipps ultimately points out, this is the way many of us have been doing open source business all along. The fact that customers are finally figuring out that there is a triple-play in this for them, too, is many shades of awesome.
So, friends new and old, come on in and play. The water is warm and the waves are just enough to make things regularly exciting.