Open-source Sunday School: Pretending to be vs. being

Don't try to pretend to be open source if you're not.

Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow. (Isaiah 50:11)

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and partly because of the rich imagery, but also because I run afoul of it all the time. The verse deals with self-aggrandizement and becoming a law unto oneself.

In the open-source world we see it with people trying to define open source to fit their chosen business model or philosophy - drafting off the value the words "open source" connote. It's not that everyone needs to adopt the same business/revenue model, but rather that we need to be clear about what we're selling.

Microsoft has actually been one of the best (positive) examples of this. The company came out with "shared source" licensing several years ago. Microsoft made no attempt to crown its efforts "open source," knowing that whether legally or not, the Open Source Initiative is the de facto group to define "open source."

SugarCRM is another positive example. The company has always called what it does "commercial open source," indicating that it was different from a community-run project like Apache. People respect that candor and, at least in SugarCRM's case, buy it in droves.

For those who don't want to fully engage with open source, that's fine. Just be sure to call what you're doing something else. Visible source, shared source, hybrid source, etc. There are good ways to name different licensing models. Pretending to be open source when you're not is not one of those good ways. It's like "compass[ing oneself] about with sparks.

Not a good idea.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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