What is an ‘Open Source Company’?

There is a conversation brewing in the blogsphere on the topic of when a company can be called ‘open source’. Nat Torkington of O’Reilly seems to have started the discussion as he attempts to build the agenda for OSCON. Allison Randal and Matt Assay have also chimed in.

IMHO, the term ‘open source company’ is very misleading and is hurting the spirit of the open source. Companies like Alfresco, EnterpriseDB are software companies just like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle etc. They all act like software companies; they have profit motives, shareholders, investors, customers, competitors, developer communities, support teams, etc. They also can go public, bankrupt or get acquired.  There is nothing wrong this either.

However, it really does seem that some companies are trying to cloak themselves by creating the term ‘an open source company.  I find this disingenuous and in the long-term damaging to the term ‘open source’.  Open source is how software gets developed and licensed, not a marketing term to create a category of companies.

5 thoughts on “What is an ‘Open Source Company’?

  1. Totally agree there. An open source company would be one that only works on open source for the good of open source. It would be hard to phathom a business model that would make such a company viable.

    Now, a company that leverages open source, contributes back as much as it legally can, to satisfy customer needs as their source of revenue, such companies deserve a term of their own. But calling them an “open source company” is wrong and takes a little too much advantage of the communities they are leveraging all in the name of marketing 🙂 (sorry, Ian!) But then, even in that sense, how does calling yourself an open source company impress your potential customers…

  2. Ian,

    I’m very glad that you brought up this subject as I’ve discussed this exact subject with people in open source projects (not companies) lately.

    I believe that “open source” as a term has become watered-down. It has, in a sense, become “hip” to be “open source”.

    Some “open source companies” provide limited open source versions of their software. Some of these limitations affect the actual product (not support etc) and makes me hesitate using them. E.g. when not providing (or delaying) security and bug fixes for the open source version I don’t believe that it is truly open source. The open source community including myself assist in finding and fixing bugs, so why shouldn’t we be able to make use of the fixes as well?

  3. Ian, I don’t agree…

    One of the comments that came out of the last bubble was that many of the companies never really made any money – and that the difference between an organization and a company is that a company is one that makes money.

    From which follows, an open source company is one that leverages open source to make money. EnterpriseDB for example is a great example of a company using Open Source in an innovative manner, and should be commended on that (and for their contributions to the open source community).

    Yes, there are other companies that don’t really support an open source community, but that might call for some community driven initiatives to measure the support of some companies to the various communities…


  4. Vineet,

    I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with EnterpriseDB. If they are delivering great solutions, making customers happy, making money and using open source software then it all sounds great. I just don’t know why we need to call them, or anyone, an open source company. More importantly, I don’t know why they are any different than BEA, Genuitec, HP, etc, that are doing the same thing? Aren’t they all just software companies?

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