Has SugarCRM Violated Open Source Principles?
SugarCRM has long been one of the top open source customer relationship management software platforms, and this week, not only is it out in a new version 6 but the new version is stirring up much controversy. As noted on Slashdot: "The main new feature is a new user interface that isn't available to users of the community version — it's only available to paying users. No they don't claim to be open core either, they claim it's all open source, even if you have to pay for it." The response to criticism over this approach from SugarCRM is interesting, as are the comparisons to open core.
As Slashdot reports, Martin Schneider, senior director of communications at SugarCRM, said:
"Open source doesn't mean free and was never really meant to mean free. Open source runs through everything we do, it enables us to be transparent and gives customers more power. We are an open source company and it's why we're better than proprietary companies."
The argument that SugarCRM is involved with now is very similar to the one that surrounds open core, where parts of an otherwise purely open project are not so open, with commercial interests driving the hybrid approach. Our own John Mark Walker wrote an interesting essay on open core here. And I defended the open core approach here.
Critics of the pay-to-play UI that SugarCRM 6 has argue that the approach will cause divergence in the community that favors the free and compeletely open version of SugarCRM. As Dana Blankenhorn notes, when considering the question of who will keep the new user interface up-to-date: "When a key part of a product is no longer accessible to the community, its value is reduced to paying customers."
More and more, open source projects are becoming hybrid in nature, and being offered in commercial incarnations that differ from the original, free, purely open incarnations. That's just natural, and it's natural for a profit-driven company like SugarCRM to explore the concept.