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The RHEL/Fedora licensing model: Not just for grown-ups

Is RHEL/Fedora only for established companies? Not even close.

Marc Fleury says something that doesn't ring true for me in his analysis of which license - GPL or BSD - to use for a new startup. Marc gives a great answer, born of hard experience, and one that is definitely worth reading. (Teaser: Use GPL if you want protection of your code and BSD if you want to be free lunch for everyone else to achieve ubiquity.)

I have one quibble, though. Marc suggests that the RHEL/Fedora model is only for established companies:

...[T]he ultimate license scheme for OSS is still RHEL/Fedora: a proprietary distribution of OSS software. It doesn't matter if the software inside is GPL/BSD or whatever. Realistically speaking however, RHEL/FEDORA is not an option for young projects, this is only viable for established products and may snuff your growth in the early stages.

Much depends on what Marc means by "established products," because my own experience with the model is directly contrary to Marc's statement.

Alfresco, my employer, went to a RHEL/Fedora model at roughly one-year old. A year later, we're up 400% in sales (forecasting another 300% in 2008) and not far from where JBoss was when it was acquired. We're actually making more money on fewer downloads than JBoss did.

That sounds like a viable business strategy to me, given that in my eyes JBoss was a tremendous success.

Are we a better company? Absolutely not. We're the beneficiary of all the hard work that JBoss did. My point is simply that it's a great model. It's a model that I'd like to see more open-source companies adopt. Marc calls it a proprietary distribution of a free product. OK. "Words, words, words," as Hamlet might say. I'm not worried about the nomenclature here.

I'm concerned with seeing faster growth in open-source companies, growth that doesn't come at customers' expense, and this is a model that works. It works because it drives ubiquity and then leaves room open to monetize a significant chunk of that ubiquity. It's by no means the only model in open source (Zimbra made more money faster than any other open-source vendor with an open source plus proprietary extensions model), but it's a viable, robust model.

Listen to what Marc says. But don't discount the validity of the RHEL/Fedora model for your business, no matter how young.