A simple declaration about "Open Core"

Recently, there has been debate in the press about "Open Core". I don't care to debate the minor points but make a simple declaration:

  • "Open Core" has NOTHING to do with "Open Source". At this point, nearly every proprietary software product has various degrees of open source-licensed source code in its core.
  • "Open Core" has none of the advantages of open source to the user and is merely a nick-name for a proprietary software company.
  • "Open Core" puts the software user at a disadvantage in the same way that all proprietary software puts the user at a disadvantage.
  • The use of Open Source in their software can be advantageous to the "Open Core" vendor as they are allowed to realize parts of the open source effect, including reducing their cost of development and increasing their margin.
  • "Open Core" vendors who imply that their EULA-licensed proprietary software is open source or has the advantages of open source are engaging in deception.
  • An "Open Core" software company is a proprietary software vendor like any other. Many proprietary software vendors produce or contribute to some open source software.


Need to emphasize that the osi blog is for board member opinions, not authoritative osi positions. Not saying that I disagree with Andy, but somebody linked to this as an OSI board statement.

I understand and respect Andy's opinion on this, but I'm left wondering: why bother? In the grand scheme of things (or even in the not-so-grand scheme of things), self-described Open Core companies comprise an infinitesimal fraction of the global software community. They don't move the needle. I personally find them innocuous and the model sometimes quite useful. But it's hardly an issue worthy of the OSI's time - certainly not the amount of time and attention the OSI has given it over the past several years. The OSI has a real leadership role to play in the ongoing open-source landscape. This isn't it, because no one really cares very much about the Open Core debate beyond the inner circle of the open sourcerors. Customers don't. Software developers don't. Etc. Can we just put this to bed? No one is confused by Google's mix of open source and proprietary software, and no one is confused by Open Core companies' practice of doing the same. It's just one more way to build a business, and given how small the number of its adherents, it's not even a particularly important one. I'd like to see OSI getting involved in open data and such things that affect hundreds of millions of people, instead of this Open Core niche issue that affects hundreds of people, and possibly thousands, on a good day.

The author of this post is entitled to his opinion. However, in my mind, this post shows nothing other than ignorance for what open core companies do, and how they do it. Open core companies generate huge amounts of very useful open source code. This code is available under OSI-approved licenses. Open core companies spend a lot of time educating CIOs, analysts, and the media about open source and its advantages. Open core companies are helping to increase the amount of open source software that is available and being used. Open core companies are trying to disrupt the established proprietary vendors in every software domain. The term 'open core' is bad to begin with, any company who only releases the core into open source will have a hard time succeeding. Most 'open core' companies release fully functional useful software into open source. As far as I can tell, no-one who complains about open core companies has ever tried their open source software. Some OSI-approved licenses state that the license does not discriminate against any domain or field of endeavor, so it's surprising and disappointing to see the OSI hosting biased content such as this. James Dixon, Chief Geek, Pentaho

This statement is reasonable, but Linux (as the kernel) has some non-floss inside. So, it should be a good thing to work to replace them with floss.

To promote and protect open source software and communities...

For over 20 years the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has worked to raise awareness and adoption of open source software, and build bridges between open source communities of practice. As a global non-profit, the OSI champions software freedom in society through education, collaboration, and infrastructure, stewarding the Open Source Definition (OSD), and preventing abuse of the ideals and ethos inherent to the open source movement.

Open source software is made by many people and distributed under an OSD-compliant license which grants all the rights to use, study, change, and share the software in modified and unmodified form. Software freedom is essential to enabling community development of open source software.