CyberTech Rambler

February 27, 2008

First “Volunteer Open Source/Professional Open Source”, now “Commercial/non-commercial” Open Source

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:43 am

Those of us “old enough” will remember JBoss’s Marc Fleury’s attempt to carve a distinction between “amateur open source” and “professional open source”. In short, if you are not working for a company, you are “amateur”, if you are, then you are “professional”. As the linked article articulate, he draws a lot of flank for calling a large community “amateur”. The podcast linked in by the article will show you that he draws fire as soon as the word “amateur” is uttered. In the end, he decided to change the word “amateur” to “volunteer”. To me, this is extremely unsatisfactory. “Professional” to me means “Professionalism”. To be professional means adopting a set of principles in one’s endeavor. Whether you work for money or for love is immaterial. While it is an attempt to make him feel good at the expense of others, at the very least, we cannot say that Fleury’s intention is cynical and is a attempt to drive a wedge through the whole open source community.

Ever since Microsoft and Novell signed the deal, we see a cynical and deliberate carving of open source community. Microsoft defined “Commercial Open Source” as any business making money out of open source software and “Non-commercial Open Source” as anybody else. It is along the line of “Volunteer/Professional Open Source” as in Fleury’s contention but this is done with an intention to split the open source community to Microsoft’s advantage. How? look at this Patent Pledge. Borrowing Microsoft Executives’ own terminology, this pledge is a virus, a not naturally occurring one but a genetically modified to target a subpopulation. Why? The pledge says that it is OK to use Microsoft Patents if you are “non-commercial open source”, not OK otherwise. Practically, this means anyone who used this patent pledge is making the choice on behalf of all developers to restricting the use of the infected open source software to people who are immune, i.e., those not making money out of the software. This restriction of use is contrary to the “No Discrimination against People or Group” principle of the Open Source Definition.

Of course, Microsoft is free to dictate terms for the use of its patent. Since it could had done it in other ways, such as changing the pledge to give usage rights to cover “non-commercial” proprietary program developers as well, the very deliberate targeting of open source developers show that it is not so much an olive branch to its competitors, but a deliberate policy to fragment and conquer its competitors.

I could marry “Volunteer Open Source” from Fleury’s with “Commercial Open Source” from Microsoft to form a more acceptable distinction (to me) to describe the “differences” in the open source community. However, I am not going to. To do so will be to fall into the trap of carving up the open source community into different camps. Sure, we have unique differences in the open source camp. The famous being the BSD vs GPL debate. However, the distinction discuss here has nothing to do with open source. All these are about different business models. Although time and time again both open source and business interacts, they are separate concerns and should not be mixed. As such, I will refrain from making this distinction.

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