Be Transparent To The (Open) Core - InformationWeek

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11/25/2009
11:33 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Be Transparent To The (Open) Core

"Transparency" is a vital term in open source: how easy is it to find out about some aspect of an open source project or product? Matthew Aslett of the 451 CAOS Theory blog went to find out how a number of vendors of open core products stacked up in this regard.

"Transparency" is a vital term in open source: how easy is it to find out about some aspect of an open source project or product? Matthew Aslett of the 451 CAOS Theory blog went to find out how a number of vendors of open core products stacked up in this regard.

Open core means what it sounds like: a product with an open source base, with add-ons or alternate versions that might not be. Matt's test, dubbed "the open core transparency test", involved a profile a number of open core vendors -- e.g., SugarCRM, Jaspersoft, Talend, Hyperic -- and a quick breakdown of how easy it was to determine a) the differences between each edition of their software, b) the licensing details for each edition, and c) the pricing for the cost-plus bits.

Most everyone made a) clear. It's sections b) and c) where the vendors profiled showed the most divergence. I was a little surprised myself to see Matt note that the licensing details for, for instance, SugarCRM were not presented on the same page as their talk about their use of open source in the product. Wouldn't the two normally go hand-in-hand?

I did some further digging around on the SugarCRM site myself, and was further surprised at how much work I had to do to find out which license they used. (It's GPLv3, as of Community Version 5; earlier versions were under the Mozilla Public License and the Attribution Assurance License.)

I wonder, sometimes, if companies that sell products that are based on open source fear that they will confuse potential customers by providing them with too much information, too soon, about open source generally. Open source as a whole can be an intimidating subject for people who haven't been continually aware of what it is or how it works.

Confusion still runs rampant. I'm constantly surprised to hear about companies who still don't realize that they are not obliged to release the source code for something they modify and use internally. (Affero or GPLv3 being the exceptions, and even those have limits.) It's not as if there's no lack of education campaigns on the part of open source creators and advocates -- but perhaps those campaigns too often focus on abstract benefits, things more of interest to other advocates than those actually engaged in the use and re-use of the software. It's often difficult for people who have been so close to open source to articulate to the uninitiated what all the fuss is about.

This isn't limited to open source, either. Look at how tough it's been to talk about everything from multi-core architectures to cloud computing. How easy it is to gush about the benefits without actually talking about the technology in question!

It's difficult to find a good median between making a product pitch, explaining a technology, and advocating for a philosophy of software engineering -- but you have to start somewhere, and keep trying.

Our "A New IT Manifesto" report looks at a variety of new approaches and technologies that let IT rebels take on a whole new role, enhancing their companies' competitiveness and engaging their entire organizations more intimately with customers. Download the report here (registration required).

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