Open Core and Pure Open Source

The recent OSBC Conference in San Francisco has risen again the “never-sleeping” debate about the open core model and, generally speaking, on open source business models.  Amongsts many posts, I’ve chosen Gartner Brian Prentice’s one Open-Core: The Emperor’s New Clothes. I don’t want to extend this debate. I just would like to underline some aspects, which I apply everyday, with some colleagues of mine, on the open source approach of the projects belonging to the Engineering Group’s SpagoWorld initiative.

Interestingly enough, Brian has made people communicate animatedly about this topic, also if Gartner is not an open source fan. Well, everybody knows that Gartner is mainly followed by important buyers, and this made it happen.

First of all, I agree with Brian when he says at the end of his article: “Be clear, there’s nothing nefarious going on with open core. It’s just that there’s just nothing particularly new or innovative going on either.“ Actually, there’s no “better” or “worse” model. There are different models and the open source takes advantage of the richness that comes from this reality, instead of basing itself on the scanty of resources. At the same time, while evaluating the various models, you must always consider the different “point of view” of the involved people, ranging from vendors, financers to users. It makes the difference!

Afterwards, Brian underlines two main aspects concerning the Open Core: the completeness that open source versions can offer, compared to critical or important features and the supporting communities.

These are important aspects that SpagoWorld considers as crucial, being based on the “pure open source” model: SpagoBI, Spagic and Spago4Q projects release only one complete, stable open source version, while the payment of a fee is applied only for support services, with no adoption of a different licence from LGPL.

As for the functional completeness, I share Brian’s opinion, who says about the Commercial Open Source “If you’re like most corporate IT customers I speak to – at least the ones considering solutions from open core providers – then chances are you’ll be starting your assessment based on their full version product rather than the free open source offering.” In relation to this, let me bring you the example of SpagoBI, the only entirely open source business intelligence suite. Users don’t have to spend time evaluating which is the most suitable version to choose. And they don’t need to migrate to an enterprise version in the future either. Moreover, the availability of a unique open source version fosters the software guided growth, not only by vendors, but also by users and by the adopting projects themselves. This allows the availability of a suite which grows over time and which faces the aspects that no other open source BI application have ever faced (ex. Location Intelligence).

At this point, the question is: are these openness, flexibility and richness really appreciated by users, analysts and by the market?

On the one hand, the enterprises ask for important references (which are not difficult to be found). On the other hand, sometimes they feel that the solutions that invest a lot of money on marketing activities are more valuable than the solutions that offer adequate requirements and sustainability. So, how is the availability of a wide range of features (here again the “pure open source” model at work) seen: as “richness” or as “complexity”?

Moreover, the analysts ask for information on revenues, whose majority consists of the sell of proprietary licenses.

What a harsh reality for “pure open source” players, too! They must be particularly patient…

Finally, as for communities, Brian says: “Even the very definition of “community” is being adapted to suit the open core narrative. What has largely interested the corporate IT world is the concept of a community as a collection of code contributors working outside a normal project/company structure. But now open core providers are extending the term community to include users and even resellers. That, of course, is what we’ve all been calling a software ecosystem for the last twenty years. Same old, same old – just co-opted terminology used to describe it“.

Yes, the software ecosystem model is not a new one. But many different software and non-only-software ecosystems working in connection or not, within a same space (i.e.: ecology of value), could be a new answer to an old request: how to bring innovation and value in the market. It depends on what innovation and value is. I’ll be back on it soon.

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