Jeroen van Meeuwen (kanarip) wrote,
Jeroen van Meeuwen

Why the Open Source Channel Alliance is bad for Free Software

A brand new initiative endorsed by Red Hat and Synnex (a business process services company) is called the Open Source Channel Alliance.

The impression I get is that unlike with Red Hat Exchange, a catalog that includes ISV products no matter if they are proprietary, Open Source or Free Software, the Open Source Channel Alliance is supposed to become a catalog of certified, genuinely Open Source ISV products.

That is, using the OSI definition of Open Source, which in my experience is also the only definition that Red Hat ever wants to use no matter where they go, rather then using the term Free Software, argued to be ambiguous even though -in my personal opinion- describing matters more accurately then just Open Source.

No matter what terminology Red Hat chooses to use though, using Open Source when talking to users, customers, distributors, suppliers and ISVs -of which they have many seeing as they are the largest out there- has always endangered the Free Software movement and evidently shows in Red Hat's endorsement of said Open Source Channel Alliance initiative. Let me try and explain you why I think that it does;

When talking about Open Source, the same ambiguity applied to Free Software -by the people that argue in favour of using Open Source to address Free Sofware-, says the one single primary requirement is that the work's source code is available somehow, not describing under what (additional) conditions, all the way up to the OSI definition of Open Source, which basically says Open Source == Free Software, and anything in between those two extremes.

In marketing, when you try to establish brand such as Red Hat's or more generally the Open Source or Free Software brand you'll need to be using the same terminology over and over again between many, many different peers. However not only does that establish your brand, it does also directly influence anyone's gut feeling when hearing terminology being used now familiar to them because of your definition of the terminology in the message you shared with them when trying to establish your brand. In this particular case, saying Open Source is good using the OSI definition let's companies that say they are Open Source NOT using the OSI definition take a free stab for the customers money.

So, now, when anyone hears a company say "We're Open Source", anyone's gut feeling says that's a good thing, whereas the company might actually not be as "OSI Open Source" and be somewhere in between exercising Microsoft's business model and truly excellent Free Software citizenship. For all you know the company makes a good impression and then they take all your money anyway. Using the Open Source Channel Alliance to have customers find suppliers and manufacturers of non-Free Software this way is bad for society in general because really we don't need the money to go to companies that run in circles inefficiently, we need the money to go to the people that deserve it doing the work that they do so much more efficiently then anyone else could (source, just below the middle of page 2 -while you're reading it though, maybe start at the top, it's an **excellent** paper).

To continue explaining why I think this Open Source Channel Alliance hurts Free Software, let me try and explain what I'm thinking are four basic pillars of business models in the software industry:

  1. Capitalize on proprietary (Intellectual Property) software (usage).

  2. Capitalize on non-OSI Open Source (Intellectual Property) software (usage) and (maybe) sell the sources to the work against an additional fee or other additional conditions.

  3. Capitalize on Free Software by adding additional features and calling it the “Enterprise Edition”. The additional features may be proprietary altogether, but they may also be just Open Source (non-OSI), whatever is licensed non-Free.

  4. Capitalize on Free Software by working with the Free Software community, and selling added value to the product, such as training, (long-term) support, legal protection, consultancy, and so forth, all while retaining the original Free license even for the Enterprise version of the product.

One example of a company that likes to give us all the idea they are so friendly to Open Source as well as Free Software, even though using business model #1, is that one North-America-based proprietary software company with a usage-based, time-limited licensing model not including the required amount of support you need, and for which you need 1) a bachelor-degree in Mathematics to even understand the model and thus pay the correct amount of license fees (or be accountable), and 2) a law-degree to be able to meet the conditions set forth in such license, let alone derive a business case out of it's TCO and ROI compared to any other licensing model out there, 3) a degree in economics to wipe out the devastating effects of the way you very inefficiently spend your money and 4) a philosophy degree to argue a way around using one of many less expensive alternatives. It can only go up in price and requirements, and it can only down in sustainability.

Again cutting a few corners here as I'm sure will show in the amount of comments made to this blog-post, but nonetheless this is not a business model any company within the software industry would even try to use if it were founded right now and that... that should tell you *something*.

One example of a company that likes to pretend they're a Free Software company using business model #4 is Red Hat. I'm saying "likes to pretend" and knowing that this too is probably a more inpopular statement, there's two reasons why I say this;

  1. Red Hat does not actually market itself as a Free Software company, but rather as "the Leader in Open Source" and/or the number #1 Open Source company in the world. Neither of this is entirely false but as you can see they use "Open Source and not "Free Software", and also,

  2. Not everything that Red Hat productises (right now or in the foreseeable future) is made Free Software or even Open Source rightaway. I guess they think they have very good reasons not to, but it just so happens that the reasons no matter how valid do not actually matter in any way.

Take it away, reader! Comment saying whatever I am I am not.

Getting back to the original point of this blog post, on "why the Open Source Channel Alliance is bad for Free Software"... We all know business model #1 sucks and is bound to die a certain, slow, painful and agonizing death. I'll enjoy watching it happen from the sidelines.

So, let's take into account business model #2 and #3. The pretend-to-be-OSI-Open-Source companies.

This type of business model makes a software industry company run around in circles in very much the same way companies using business model #1 do, with the very subtle difference being they run around in circles for only a small(er) part of support and development of their product. In case of business model #2 you may receive patches from 3rd parties and in business model #3 additional development efforts may exist in a community built around the product making you just a little more efficient. However, one could argue these two models are just as much sustainable as business model #1 in the long term. Nonetheless;

Some of these companies can be called Open Source, but not in the way that the OSI defines it. Most of these companies however are proprietary, and most certainly NOT Open Source in any way at all, let alone any of these are Open Source using the OSI definition.

Yet, most of the companies and products you'll find listed (at the time of this writing) in the Open Source Channel Alliance catalogue are NOT Open Source and provide proprietary features in their so-called "Enterprise Editions", on top of a "Community Edition" that may be Open Source or even Free Software (dual licensing model).

When in the position of leader in Open Source, using the OSI definition of Open Source, why would you downgrade to endorsing companies that sell non-OSI Open Source products? Is there no boundary to this? Can I build hello_world.c (GPL), build a proprietary application on top of that, sell it, and then call my company Open Source? Don't think so. There appears to be a labile balance between what is an Open Source company still and what is not an Open Source company anymore.

I hope now that you see what I think is the negative impact of using "Open Source" when you mean to say "Free Software", and what the result is of endorsing non-Free Software companies using terminology such as "Open Source".

  • (no subject)

    Let's see if this works as I anticipate

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