Let's Not Deride Open Core

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 25, 2010

Open core remains one of the biggest topics in the open source world, as John discussed here. In essence, of course, the term refers to the increasingly popular practice of making the heart of your product open source but putting the rest of it under a paid license. In the world of commercial open source, some players have been pursuing it as a way to make venture backers happy while still benefitting from an open source model, complete with community. While some in the open source community look down their noses at the model, there is no reason to write it off.

Today, Dana Blankenhorn writes:

"There are many ways to skin the open source business model. Support, services, hardware, they’re all perfectly valid. But what I think the open core boomlet is really saying is that open source, as a way to sell software, is slowly falling off the venture capital radar."

The bottom line is that taking a pure open source play to potential financers can be risky. People who are going to front up money for a project want to know that the idea can be monetized. What's wrong with that?

There are many examples in the open source world of projects that are open at the center, but modified with proprietary extensions and interfaces. Just look at Android. Motorola has its own proprietary MotoBlur interface that it ships on top of the open source operating system. And sure, Mozilla's Firefox browser is open source, but the company has discussed delivering a store for paid Firefox extensions, and others have considered delivering one.

Yesterday, Red Hat delivered stellar quarterly earnings for the fourth quarter in a row. The company delivers open source software but sells support around it. In the world of commercial open source, marrying a monetizable model to open source software makes business sense. That's why the purists deriding open core are being too inflexible.

We're seeing more than just a boomlet with the open core movement. What we're witnessing is one among many ways that open source can play a key role in workable business models.