crypto and public policy

Marc Fleury doesn’t get open-source

Filed under: Free Software July 10, 2005 @ 4:50 pm

So Marc Fleury is a successful figure in the open-source business world. It’s very clear that he’s succeeded in business, but it’s not so clear that he understands open-source very well, and that may come back to bite him. And since he’s a Frenchman, too, hopefully he’ll take my criticism well, if he ever reads it 🙂

In his Business Week interview, he basically criticizes the “Hari Krisha’s” (his words, not mine) of the open-source world, pitting those who work for free against those who are trying to make a living. He claims that he found a way to make money off open-source: give the software away for free and sell the services. (So, he didn’t exactly invent this idea, but let’s put that aside for now.) What he fails to see is that open-source development and open-source support are distinct.

The beauty of open-source, from a business standpoint, is that the software writer and the software support provider may not be the same. Open-source enables competition. I wrote about this back in 2000: open-source is the ultimate capitalist tool in that it enables a customer to pick a product and then select a support provider for that product independently of who wrote the software. That’s ultimate market competition, and it ultimately benefits the customer.

So insulting the people who might contribute to JBoss for free is neither here nor there. Much open-source software is written by people who don’t get paid (including the early versions of JBoss). The question is: who’s providing the service? Well, is. But so is HP. And so is Novell. In other words, Marc, if you’re insulting the open-source volunteers, you’re missing the point. The volunteers will always be part of the equation when it comes to writing open-source software. When it comes to supporting open-source software, of course people expect to be paid.

And the way you make money in the open-source world is by harnessing the open-source community for development, where new features and bug fixes benefit everyone, to build the most awesome platform you can build. Then, you have to build a brand, a solid brand, and some quality services, to ensure that customers come to you for support instead of switching to your competitor the moment you stop performing. The two steps, building the sotware and supporting it, are very different.

JBoss has certainly understood the concept of building a solid brand. Kudos to the company for succeeding where many (including myself) have failed. However, insulting a segment of your platform builders because you found a way to make money on services when they did their work for free, that’s just stupid. It’s a bit as if RedHat insulted Linus because he started Linux as a volunteer. It’s bad strategy.

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