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Open Source To Be or NOT

Is a company worthy of referring to itself as open source or not and thus presenting as an open source vendor at OSCON? First, I think you must differentiate between open source projects and open source companies. And next, everyone would have to agree on what "open source" actually means.

IMNSHO, a project is open source if all of the source code is available as a download, under a license, or expressed permission, to recompile, change and use that source. Using a version control system such as CVS or subversion is great, but even just including it in the zip archive or tarball is fine too. Of course, other things are adopting the open source philosophy as well, such as Sun Microsystems open sourcing the underlying chip architecture of Niagara. So, perhaps an open source project is anything that provides enough information [system, functional, design and component specifications, for example] from which one could recreate the original project. And of course, the license to do so.

But which license? There are so very many, though there seems to be two main camps: the GPL and Berkeley/Apache. And let's not forget the badgeware wars for the MPL+attribution license. Dual-licensing or not? Commercial or not? Can the source code be available but not free [as in beer]? To me, it's open source not freeware, so yes, yes and yes. That's not the popular opinion. :>>

Nat Torkington started things off...

I think EnterpriseDB is a tricky boundary case. They've got software that helps bring people directly to OSS from closed source. That's surely worthy of exposure at OSCON -- it'll help attendees convince their bosses to use more open source. But on the other hand, it fails my "can people build it?" test.end quotation
-- Nat Torkington in O'Reilly Radar "Is "Open Source" Now Completely Meaningless?"

Allison Randal responded on her own O'Reilly blog...

Nat recently made a provocative post taking the position that companies like EnterpriseDB who don't release all of their source code don't belong in an "Open Source" conference. Really, it goes back to the age-old GPL vs. BSD licensing argument. GPL takes the perspective that proprietary versions should never be allowed, and so requires all versions of GPL'd software to be released under the GPL. The BSD license, as well as Apache, MIT, Artistic, etc., take the perspective that proprietary versions of open source software are an expected part of the open source ecosystem. They're even desirable, especially when the company involved is contributing back to the open version of the code, and employs developers to work on the open version of the code.end quotation
-- Allison Randal in O'Reilly Radar EnterpriseDB is/n't Open Source

and the debate was on.

EnterpriseDB is quite frank about what it's about. A shark is not the cute, cuddly mascot we associate with open source. You buy from an outfit with a shark as its mascot, you know what you're getting into.end quotation
-- Who decides what is open source? by ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn

EnterpriseDB is not an open-source product. In my opinion, they're not an open-source company either.
"I happen to favor the GPL for a number of reasons but there are a number of other, perfectly valid, open-source licenses. It's interesting that some say that BSD doesn't require EnterpriseDB to publish their source code. But, BSD doesn't prevent them from publishing their source code either. For that matter, there's nothing preventing Oracle from publishing their source code save their desire to be a closed-source, proprietary product.end quotation
-- Dave Dargo's Random Thoughts "If You Can't See It, It Ain't Open"

All of which begs the question: what open source benefits do any of EnterpriseDB's customers get? A lower cost product and better quality, yes, but also the same lock-in you'd find with any proprietary product. Is that the promise of open source?end quotation
-- Matt Assay in InfoWorld Open Sources "More on what constitutes an open source company"

When Eric & Bruce originally coined the term "open source" they intended to trademark it and began the application process under Software in the Public Interest, Inc. Unfortunately, SPI forked into SPI and OSI due to political differences of opinion, and in the process the trademark was lost. So "open source" is now public domain and legally speaking any company can use it however they want.
"However, serious open source geeks like Nat do still have control over some things despite the lawyers, like who gets to keynote at OSCON. So he's started wondering what the definition of an "open source company" should be. What follows are a number open-source-ish things which companies do; I'd like you to let me know which things, or combinations of things, should be the measure of an "open source company". And I'll share my opinion tommorrow.end quotation
Josh Berkus in ITtoolbox Database Soup "Who's open source? (part 1)"

For my part, having had the model fully explained to me by Astor, I took the decision to stop referring to EnterpriseDB as an “open source database vendor” in news stories and articles, as can be seen from our recent article on VC funding:
"'The level of interest in open source is evident in the experience of EnterpriseDB, which offers an enterprise database of the same name built on the open source PostgreSQL code base… While EnterpriseDB's key database enhancements, such as Oracle compatibility, and reliability improvements, are not open source, Astor believes that the firm's involvement in the open source community was a key factor in raising the funding.'
"However, I continue to include the company in CBR’s list of open source funding deals because clearly an investment in EnterpriseDB is an investment in the strengths of the open source development model.end quotation
-- by Matthew Aslett on March 1, 2007 11:25 AM in Open Source Weblog "The EnterpriseDB debate – some insight from the top"

All of which brings us back to the question, when is a company an open source vendor? As I said at the beginning, first, I differentiate between an open source project and an open source company. If a company can dual-license, such as MySQL with their community and enterprise, cluster, & carrier versions, and still be lauded as a pinnacle of the open source movement, than I would say that a company whose main source of income is in leveraging an open source project, and that they are recognized as being a strong supporter of that project in terms of money, developer time, community participation, etc. than yes, that company is an open source company, and I think EnterpriseDB is an open source company, as is Greenplum, who like EnterpriseDB leverages PostgreSQL, but in a different way, and with a different type of participation via Bizgres. To be clear, I don't think that what any company that contributes back to, and possibly distributes, an open source project is an open source company. IBM and HP have been good for open source, and for various open source communities, and especially for Linux. Sun Microsystems has more wholly embraced the open source philosophy with openSolaris, Niagara, and now Java, and their DW appliance with Greenplum. Would you call Sun an open source company? I'm undecided. Pentaho brought in the "best of the best" of the open source BI/DW open source components: Mondrian, jFreeReport, jPivot, KETTLE, WEKA as well as added framework and workflow, and they have a very interesting model in how those projects are still independently run, and how the Pentaho project is run and its community developed, and how the company has evolved [no longer having a professional edition]; but at first, some argued that they were taking advantage of open source and doubted their sincerity [private conversations, no web links, sorry]; I don't think anyone would argue against Pentaho anymore, and the nay-sayers were proven wrong. These [EnterpriseDB, Greenplum and Pentaho] are three examples of commercial open source companies, and I think they all deserve to be called so. Some of these doubts and questions have also been raised about Ingres and Actuate [BIRT for Eclipse]. I'll leave the decision on those two as an exercise for the reader.

It will be interesting to see how this debate goes, though I think we'll be having it for years to come.

Updated with more quotes, better links and some clarifications 2007.03.01;18h33PST

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