Crippleware, and Bait and Switch

Open Core Myths and Realities

Jessica Thornsby

Matthew Aslett has blogged that Open Core doesn’t always equal crippleware, and that the tide appears to be turning on ‘bait and switch’ marketing strategies.

The Open Core debate may still be raging in the blogosphere, but
Matthew Aslett believes it is time to steer the debate away from
some common misconceptions regarding Open Core:
namely, the assumption that Open Core is always crippleware, and
employs a bait and switch marketing model.

Firstly, he addresses the community’s concern that, when a
product is available in open source and proprietary flavours, the
open source edition is deliberately crippled in order to encourage
customers to shell out on the closed source edition. To Aslett’s
mind, this is about as paranoid as “claiming that open source
support providers deliberately make open source projects difficult
to work with in order to sell more support contracts.” He stresses
that the distinction between the features in the open source
edition, and the proprietary edition, are based on the target
audience. Despite his many anti-Open Core posts, Simon Phipps
supported this statement, when he wrote of Open Core software: “the community edition is
used by a group of people who have the time and skills to deploy by
themselves and who have no need of the many differences of the
commercial versions.” Therefore, although features may be missing
from the open source edition, this is because they were
specifically designed for commercial development, and not the open
source community.

The Likewise company – who offer Likewise Open and Likewise
Enterprise – also make this
: that there is no “crippleware,” just one version
tailored for one audience, and one version tailored for another.
“The added functionality in Enterprise benefits a very specific
segment of our community,” the company write, before admitting that
Open Core is not “the ultimate ideal” for open source advocates,
but that it is “a workable solution that addresses the needs of the
customer, community, and vendor.”

Although, in the aforementioned post, Simon Phipps raised the
valid point that if you sign up for the proprietary version, and
then your project evolves in a way that means you no longer wish to
continue your contract with the vendor, you forfeit the right to
use said proprietary edition. “Since this version significantly
differs from the community version, there is no fall-back plan and
while the customer may have access to their data (if the vendor is
sufficiently enlightened about open data), there’s no software they
can continue to use,” he argues. If you are a closed-source
product’s target market, and your situation with the vendor changes
for whatever reason, then you could find yourself struggling to
find adequate replacement software.

Another issue addressed in Aslett’s blog post, is the concept of
“bait and switch” i.e, that Open Core vendors deliberately mislead
customers into shelling out for the proprietary features. However,
he cites a recent ‘transparency test‘ conducted by The 451 Group,
where they browsed the websites of major Open Core vendors for five
minutes, in search of three key pieces of information: an edition
comparison, licensing details and pricing details. The survey found
that, although half of the companies they investigated chose to
hold pricing information back, “most….make it easy to find
information comparing the open core and enterprise editions,” and
provide information on licensing. To Aslett, this makes sense,
because a successful Open Core strategy relies on simultaneously
keeping the open source community, and the paying customer happy –
not deliberately misleading them.

Aslett draws a pragmatic conclusion: some Open Core products may
deliberately and unfairly hold back crucial features from the open
source community, but this isn’t true of all Open Core products,
anymore so than one “crappy” community-developed open source
project, means that the entire concept of open source is

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