Software is a strange product. It exists entirely in the information space, so the marginal cost of a copy is near zero. As DVD distribution has given way to Internet downloads software has even escaped the bonds of corporeal formats - like an advanced intelligence from Star Trek evolving into pure energy - and can be delivered anywhere virtually instantly, at virtually no cost.
The impalpable form of software posed challenges to the early creators of software who wanted to sell it as a valuable new type of product. If you sell a copy that can be copied and distributed at no cost how can you spread the cost of creation across a large set of paying users?
Software licenses were the answer. By not “selling” the software outright creators retain full ownership and use copyright law to limit anyone else from making copies. Then, usually in exchange for a fee, the creator loosens up just enough of the restrictions to attract users to the software. The restrictions usually include:
When you read a software licenses you find it’s mostly about LIMITS.
Limits are reasonable in ensuring that the creator is adequately compensated for their creative investments. But limits on use of the software also translate directly into limits on the business value you can obtain from the software. Some of the unpleasant side effects of these limits on a business include:
It is no wonder that open source is so attractive – it reverses the premise that software licenses are about limits on the use. It eliminates many of the unpleasant side effects of traditional licensing by promising that the creator will NOT impose such limits.
Open source software is licensed under principles of freedom to use, study, improve, and share the software. The creator of the software, while still owning the intellectual property behind the software, has agreed that others may use the software without the traditional limits of a proprietary license. An open source license has:
Many of the negative side effects of commercial licenses are correspondingly reversed:
Now, it should be clear – while it’s easier to build a quality product using open source collaboration methods, it’s much HARDER to build a viable business creating software if you choose open source licensing. Disarming of the monopoly power of traditional licenses is not for the faint of heart. Many users will use your product for free if they are allowed to do so. You can’t just write great code and wait for the money to flow in, you also have to also invest in value-added services and keep them attractive.
The only thing harder, in the long run, than developing a successful open source business is NOT going open source and trying to compete with vendors who have committed and succeeded at this model.
In fact many, if not most, open source businesses have cheated a little bit on their open source commitment in order to make their businesses grow more reliably. The most common model is an "open core" model, where the core software is available open source, released under a designation such as "community edition." But as soon as enterprise features are needed customers must obtain an "enterprise edition." The enterprise edition typically abandons pure open source licensing and reverts to a traditional license – and the customer therefore loses to a large degree the advantages of open source licensing.
Over time, many customers have found this dual license model disadvantageous. The most demanded new features typically appear in the "enterprise" version rather than in the “community” version – it's a natural move to keep as much monopoly control as possible once you’ve stepped down that path. But at some point the community version really just becomes a teaser, providing a façade of open source, collecting some free improvements contributed by the community, but retaining the majority of the value of those contributions commercially for the vendor.
WSO2 is committed to a 100% Apache-compatible model. There is no community/enterprise version split – every product has all features and is enterprise ready. We provide support services, maintenance, consulting, training, and a variety of other valuable services around the free software, for which we work hard to build a strong value proposition and earn customer loyalty.
We would be remiss in omitting a notice that not all open source licenses are created equal. In general there are two families of open source licenses – "permissive" and "copyleft."
Permissive is as it sounds – the user is free to do virtually whatever they like with the software – including creating derivatives and releasing them under a traditional commercial license.
Copyleft licenses require that any derivative works, which might be simple improvements or could be a combination of copyleft code with other pre-existing code, must also be made available under the copyleft license. This requirement scares many in the software industry, as it behooves them to commit upfront to open source license terms in any derivatives, or any other code they have which might be combined with the copyleft software.
This stifles their ability to start coding now and assess the ultimate value of the work, and the appropriate license to apply, later.
In one sense, copyleft protects the authors of the code, from being exploited by others building on and profiting from their work without giving back to the original creators. That is an admirable goal. But it is not one that a lot of businesses are able to commit to in advance. A permissive license allows a business to adopt code, improve it, share it, profit from it, or whatever, without having to make a decision up front about whether to share the derivative back to the community.
WSO2 encourages contributions and derivative works released under an open source license, but does not demand that users pre-agree to return improvements to the community. Especially in the middleware space, it is fairly common that an internal application evolves into a marketable standalone product. It is wise not to constrain future business models. For these reasons WSO2 exclusively provide customers with permissive open source licenses, specifically the most well known, the Apache 2.0 license.
Peter Cochran has said "The world is divided into two kinds of people, those who spend a great deal of time saving money, and those who spend a great deal of money saving time."
WSO2 believes that the combination of free open source software – which can be used and improved by all – together with valuable business services that help customers save time at a reasonable cost – are the ultimate future of the industry. We believe permissive open source licenses provide the greatest alignment between the interests of creators and users of software.
So we encourage you to download and try out our products under the open source "no obligation" license. We encourage you to engage with the WSO2 community – share your experiences, contribute back to the projects, or if you put a value on saving time, explore a commercial relationship with WSO2. We are highly motivated to ensure you are satisfied.
For more details about our solutions or to discuss a specific requirement