Open source software is different than proprietary software in one very important area: open source software can enable new ways to create value. The very nature of open source software – and the community that springs up around that open source software – provides a multitude of opportunities for customers, consultants, partners and other various players to receive value including:
- Access to a high-performance / high-quality product for a lower-then-a-proprietary product price
- Rapid bug fixes that reduce in-house support costs and accelerates time-to-value
- Ability to freely embed the software into their own products, free of redistribution licenses
- Control your own software destiny by contracting to have specific capabilities added to the source code
- Freedom from architectural lock-in and being held captive to another organization’s development roadmap and schedule
- Ability to “open up the hood” and build up the decades of contributions from community members
An open source software and the supporting community enables a “for value” ecosystem where everyone can prosper as the open source software and the supporting community grow.
Profit should not be a “4 Letter Word” for an open source community, for without profits there are no investments and there is no growth. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for open source community members to “profit” from the unique characteristics of open source software including:
- Provide support services
- Provide consulting services to enhance software features and performance
- Provide customer training and education
- Host conferences and events
- Publish books
However, for the community to grow, everyone must contribute in whatever way they can. The community will quickly dissipate if there are more “takers from” the community than there are “givers to” the community. One can’t just take; one must also figure out a way to give back so that the entire community can grow and prosper. And that’s the key to growing a vibrant open source community – everyone must find a way to contribute.
Schmarzo’s “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” Open Source Doctrine
I’ve always wanted to have a doctrine named after me, so maybe this is my selfish way to self-promote such a doctrine. I call this the Schmarzo “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” Open Source Doctrine, and it’s based upon a concept that many of us see every day in convenience stores, gas stations or coffee shops – the penny tray!
The penny tray sits next to the cash register and allows someone to leave a penny that they received in change for someone else’s use, or for someone else to grab a penny that they might need to complete a transaction (such as buying a soda that costs $1.01 due to taxes). For many folks, pennies are a nuisance. So, it’s more convenient to leave them behind for someone else’s benefit use rather than having them accumulate in your pockets.
The key point is this: you leave the penny when you can because you know that someone else someday may need that. And to a certain extent, that’s how the open source community works – we leave contributions for others who might need those contributions.
There are many ways that members of the open source community can give back, including but not limited to:
- Making contributions of code that expand the functionality and improve the performance of the product
- Identifying and helping to fix bugs
- Sharing best practices and learnings with the larger community
- Sharing stories and use cases (blogs, social media, articles) of where and how the open source product helped you to do something that could not be done with a proprietary product.
- Being a public reference – an evangelist – that helps to drive the awareness of the technology and business advantages of the open source software
- Hosting “Meet Ups” so that others can learn about the open source software and the community benefits of open source software
- Purchasing support contracts which allows companies like Hitachi Vantara to hire more engineers who can add more software functionality and improve performance
Open Source Community Summary
Making money off of open sources software is not evil. Everyone is allowed to make money, or receive value, in an open source community. Without profits and value, the community will starve itself of the necessary funding to prosper and grow. Profits fund the development of new features, fixes bugs and educates and trains others. Profits are necessary to a successful community.
So, the entire community should understand the necessity for members to make money or receive value. But that requires that members be givers. Unfortunately, while many give back, some only take.
As the sustainers and the major contributors to the Pentaho open source community, we understand the importance of enabling all community members to make money or receive value. We prioritize our community communication, growth and support activities to encourage all organizations to contribute to the community in any way that they can. Maybe that’s contributing code, maybe that’s contributing to bug fixes, or maybe it’s just being a vocal advocate for the open source movement.
Remember the simple open source doctrine: “Leave a penny, take a penny.” If the entire community follows that doctrine, then we all win.
By Bill Schmarzo