Crippleware, and Bait and Switch

Open Core Myths and Realities

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 distinction: 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 flawed.

Jessica Thornsby

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