Photo of a hippie church

This is not Daddy’s Open Source !

Everybody and his mom loves success – and hence Open Source. But your Open Source today may be unlike your daddy’s. Daddy’s was about enthusiasm, freedom, collaboration and honesty. Hippy style bazaar projects like Linux are still there and doing well. I feel I do understand people’s motivation to participate in this kind of Open Source. This post is about the understanding of another flavor of Open Source – the “Single-Vendor Commercial” model.

Single-Vendor Commercial Open Source

Things get a little different when looking at this kind of Open Source. Its spectrum spans a range from “Fair Deal” via “Free Rider” to “Sharecropper” at the very evil end. Free Rider is a name I came up with denoting somebody trying to benefit while providing no real value and not really hurting anybody either. The Sharecropper is about a single vendor who controls everything, benefiting from the community, while the community only exists to serve the vendor (s. References).

I’m not a radical Open Source advocate or -Hippy like WordPress founder Matthew Mullenweg. I think participating should be beneficial for all parties no matter whether commercial or not.

Symptoms of bad Open Source

The motivation to write this post originated from recent frustration with “bad” Single-Vendor Open Source. Thinking about it now, I can hardly believe I wasted my time trying this product out. Looking a little closer now, there were clear signs indicating that this Open Source smelled “bad”:

  • Product pages SEOveroptimized – The words “Open” and/or “Source” everywhere
  • Vendor raving about the product – the community not
  • Source shipped inconveniently – e.g. tarballs
  • Code shipped suprisingly broken
  • Mostly employees active in forums / company blog
  • Rare or non-existent critisism

In my case, what really made me angry was the quality of the code shipped giving trouble right from the start. I think it is ok to provide broken snake oil as long as you are fair enough to clearly state it. So at the end of the day my penalty was a few hours of time wasted. Next time, I’ll be more careful and less enthusiastic. Still, the experience had other consequences. I told people about my frustration with this product and discouraged them from looking at it. I can easily imagine more serious trouble in today’s social media age.

Open Source is everywhere in the IT landscape – CVs, company homepages, business cards – no matter what. And too much is annoying, really – less is more. Things branded “Open Source” which at best only remotely have to do with it are annoying.

On the other hand, I would dare to say that you don’t find a single list item applying to a truly successful community driven project. Look at the Clojure language homepage. The words “Open” or “Source” don’t even appear.

A fair Deal in the Single-Vendor Model

How should the community and the vendor benefit in a fair relationship in the Single-Vendor model ?
As a part of a community I expect:

  • Production quality software
  • A serious opportunity to contribute code
  • Timely information where things are headed

I cannot really tell about vendor expectations, but the following benefits are obvious:

  • The community pushing the product supporting marketing, development, support
  • Reduced hiring risks for proven community contributors

I feel at least a little engaged with Alfresco here and there. The funny thing now is that Jeff Potts will be giving a talk on the 5th of June titled “Community Update, how to engage with Alfresco?”. And, even better – it will be in Hamburg. I am very curious about what he will be telling.


Andreas Steffan
Pragmatic ? Scientist and DevOps Mind @ Contentreich. Believes in Open Source, the Open Web and Linux. Freelancing in DevOps-, Cloud-, Kubernetes, JVM- and Contentland and speaks Clojure, Kotlin, Groovy, Go, Python, JavaScript, Java, Alfresco and WordPress. Built infrastructure before it was cool. ❤️ Emacs.

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