Are ‘Open Source Companies’ Misleading the Consumer?

Jessica Thornsby

The rise of Open Source Companies and Open-Core.

Ian Skerrett has called for an end to the term ‘Open Source Company.’

He is all for companies actively participating in open source, in a manner that is beneficial to both the open source community and the company’s product and business strategy but, in his opinion, labelling a company “open source” is an attempt to exploit the open source ideal for marketing and financial gain. Skerrett takes a particularly dim view of this as, for the end user, an “open source” company is no different to any other software provider.

Skerrett’s view is echoed in Gartner analyst Brian Prentice’s ‘Open-Core: The Emperor’s New Clothes’ blog post. “You’re licensing a proprietary solution from an organization which builds it with fee open source components,” Prentice writes. “The direction that happens – either open-to-proprietary or proprietary-to-open – is meaningless to you.”

Furthermore, this is a common occurrence in the industry. Skerrett implies that, to label your company as open source, is quickly becoming meaningless: “Open source is now so fundamental to the software industry that it is part of every software company’s product and/or business strategy.”

Prentice points out that many proprietary solutions are built using open source components, so these so-called “open source companies” are offering nothing particularly unique. The open source banner can even be potentially damaging, as when a company requires a feature only available in the full version, everything needs to be scaled up and re-costed to the full-cost offering. This can cause major headaches for companies who have budgeted for the community-supported open source version.

Prentice’s concludes with as assurance that, while there’s nothing particularly underhand about open source software companies, the problem is that there’s nothing new or innovative about them either. To his mind, they’re a “bog standard software provider trying to use the latest phraseology to cut through the noise of a crowded marketplace.” That, to him, is the main problem here.

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