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Open Source Licensing - Cuts Both Ways? 367

Posted by Hemos
from the up-for-debate dept.
shortscruffydave writes "The Register is running a piece Open source databases - a sword that cuts both ways? which mentions one of the potential pitfalls of open source databases: "Open source is just another licensing model: the more accepted it becomes, the more it is adopted at a strategic level, the more it plays back into the hands of the traditional behemoths that dominate the industry". " I couldn't disagree more with the author of this piece, since I think the success of Postgres & MySQL are already contra-proof positive, but the piece is still an interesting read.
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Open Source Licensing - Cuts Both Ways?

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  • by NerdHead (35767) * on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:08AM (#12133345)
    Licensing is what keeps those behemoths from getting their hands on these
    applications. It is interesting that the writer didn't tell us what option
    he'd prefer - a closed license or no license at all. MySQL is offering a
    choice of a commercial license or open-source. Money is important for the
    survival of the company that markets open-source products but open-source
    licenses don't restrict companies from charging for their product and MySQL
    is a good example for how to deal with the issue.
  • Say what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SilverspurG (844751) * on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:08AM (#12133348) Homepage Journal
    Paragraph 1: Intro
    Paragraph 2: Planning considerations
    Paragraph 3: Existing players
    Paragraph 4: Business considerations
    Paragraph 5: Unsupported assertions
    Paragraph 6: Unsupported assertions

    Who founded Bloor Research? Who funds them? Who owns stock in them? Who are the members of their executive board and what are their social connections?

    This is a really bad piece.
  • Re:I call bull (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cosinezero (833532) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:11AM (#12133371)
    "closed source has no real advantage on open source." -->Except for that little thing called "Developers getting paid"... Sure, there's all this "support" argument, but I worked my ass off to get out of support. I don't want to do support. I want to write code that is so good it doesn't -require- support, and be paid for it.
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:14AM (#12133407) Homepage Journal
    Elmer must've got up early and munched a wot of waxative to pump out dat kinda FUD.
    A more full treatment of the TFA topic can be found in Coase's Penguin [benkler.org].
    From the abstract:
    In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.
    My personal spin is that, just as the printing press broke down the medieval market on literacy, so the GPL will increasingly educate the masses.
    Props to RMS, the modern Gutenberg.
  • Re:I call bull (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Secrity (742221) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:29AM (#12133557)
    Are you saying that Red Hat's developers don't get paid? Are you saying that Suse's developers don't get paid? Are you saying that sendmail's developers don't get paid? There are open source projects that do pay developers and nobody is being forced to work on an open source project without pay. Nobody is stopping you from writing closed source code that is so good that it doesn't require support. There is also nothing that would force anybody to pay you for writing that code. Choose the business model that you are most comfortable with.
  • Re:OpenSourcing a DB (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mirko (198274) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:30AM (#12133566) Journal
    Sometimes, benefiting from the source code as well allows you to optimize the way you will help the db internals to assimilate the data it receives from its interfaces.
  • Re:I call bull (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ergo98 (9391) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:32AM (#12133585) Homepage Journal
    The source is available, you can support/develop it by your own or hire in support/development/warranty, now try that with closed source.

    The benefit of having the source is grossly overstated by most FOSS advocates.

    Seriously, how many people really want to be developing/modifying their back-end RDBMS? Personally I'd rather just install SQL Server or DB2 and let Microsoft or IBM deal with that - my domain is in a different realm, and the database server simply supports it. I'm not going to spend 100s of hours trying to pretend I'm a database developer as well, and even if there were an itch, I (like the overwhelming majority of non-DB developers) am not skilled in a way to efficiently solve it.

    All disadvantages for open source are at least applicable for closed source, closed source has no real advantage on open source.

    Your advantage - fiddling with the code - is a close to negligible benefit (it reminds me of the ridiculous story recently about the "open source" rip off of delicious).
  • Re:Say what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:41AM (#12133673) Homepage Journal
    Look at some of they're other reports
    In "The Road Ahead", Bill Gates himself wrote enthusiastically about the "software ecosystem" that surrounded Microsoft in its early years. It made a huge contribution to the success of Windows, by creating an application-rich environment. The same kind of ecosystem now surrounds Open Source and it is growing quickly. I am amazed by its potential. It could completely undermine Microsoft's monopoly, and it probably will. -- Samba, Soccer and Open Source [it-director.com]
    Microsoft has a horrible position to defend; they have created a monster of complexity by enabling such an open model. Whilst it is true that we as consumers have seen the benefits of lower prices and mounting capability, there has been a price to pay. When the foundation is so shaky, you cannot be certain whether you will derive benefit from an update or whether in fact it will cause untold grief. -- Further problems associated with Service Pack 2? [it-director.com]
    Doesn't read like a Gartner-style MS schill to me...
  • Re:I call bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lilo_booter (649045) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:43AM (#12133698)
    I get paid to develop Open Source software and so do many others.

    Doing so ensures that not only I do get the immediate returns, I get a longer term return in that I can reuse components freely for multiple customers (assuming that they have compatible licensing and goals). This is rarely an option with closed source; I've even worked in closed source companies that have multiple customers - sometimes they won't even let you share code between them.

    As for writing software that doesn't need support - heh - well, good luck on that one :-). There's always something, be it additional functionality, changes in your projects dependencies, licensing consideration and of course, there are bugs and user usage/understanding issues. Unfortunately, it's not just about writing code....
  • DB or DBMS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Monday April 04, 2005 @10:50AM (#12133767)
    When I used to work for a database design company, we'd have the argument that "the person who confuses a database with a database management system" is obviously too ignorant of his trade to trust with your precious data. I note that this author confuses those terms in his article.

    But putting aside that snippy, meaningless sales argument for a moment, we usually didn't care whether the client chose Open Source or Closed Source database tech (as long as we had someone on staff familiar with it). Our thought was that if we weren't paying for the tools we didn't care which system was chosen. We started to care after a custom van shop in Arizona wanted to use an all Microsoft platform (out of fear we'd abandon them and they wouldn't know what to do with this open source stuff). Being a startup though, they ran themselves in the ground and naturally our fees weren't paid due to the heavy fees they owed to Microsoft. After that, we'd push Open Source a little more if there was any sort of financial question about the company.

    But the fact that we weren't a huge company did scare many clients. They were much more comfortable knowing that their cousin could fix something in Microsoft Access if we disappeared from the face of the earth, but they wouldn't have any idea what to do with a PostgreSQL data repository. This usually meant that either we'd use their preferred closed source tools or we'd create some extra tools for them for free to dump the repository to csv and tab separated formats.

    Inevitably someone would ask me, personally, which dbms I thought was a better investment. I always loathed that question (since I was a programmer and not a salesman). But it usually came down to which programming environment I preferred and which environment I thought the salesperson had recommended. But looking back on it, if you were hiring our team to design the database that's where most of your expense would be. If you wanted to pay additional money to Microsoft for the database that was fine, but it wasn't going to reduce our costs any.

  • Re:I call bull (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday April 04, 2005 @11:03AM (#12133868) Homepage Journal
    My boss paid me quite a lot of money to write Free Software [honeypot.net]. So much for your hypothesis.
  • Re:I call bull (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lilo_booter (649045) on Monday April 04, 2005 @11:11AM (#12133952)
    And you misunderstand entirely - I said 'I get paid to develop Open Source' not that 'I sell Open Source' - there's a big and subtle difference.

    Software development is not just about developing shrink wrapped solutions to the world at large - organisations pay for development for inhouse use, some use it for embedding in their products, others use software for their business to business communications and yes, some produce shrink wrapped solutions.

    But let's assume that I were developing shrink wrapped solutions and using open source components to do it. Let's assume there's a bug in that release. The user reports the bug to my company or throws the software away. Tell me, how does this in anyway differ from their being a bug in a closed source app? Do you believe that closed source is somehow better?

    Now assume that the bug is found by a techie, or the person finding the bug knows a techie. Yay! Guess what, they *can* possibly, if they feel like it, fix the bug. Someone can pay somebody independently to do it too.

    Think of it like calling in a plumber or an electrician - would you like it if the only option you had was to call in maintenance from the company who installed the pipes and wires? What happens if they went bust (or was blown up by terrorists, or was the victim of living in a part of the world that was struck by a natural disaster)? Do you really want to be forced to re-plumb and rewire just because of that?
  • Re:I call bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday April 04, 2005 @11:26AM (#12134066)

    "closed source has no real advantage on open source." -->Except for that little thing called "Developers getting paid"

    You're almost right here, but not quite. There are many business models that allow developers of open source software to be paid. The problem is, their is not a widespread and accepted method for funding open source technologies, that does not bring with it some disadvantages.

    Redhat's model for example is to develop software that is open source and sell support and services for that software. It is a functional method and works for quite a few companies. The disadvantage that comes with it is that the business model encourages software that makes the user more reliant on services and support.

    Other companies develop both open and closed source software, which they bundle together. This model works because they get paid directly for the closed source software, and still get the advantages of open source for some of their product. The disadvantage is that they are tied to closed source for part of their product, with the disadvantages of that development model.

    Some companies use open source products and pay developers to modify it to their needs, fix bugs, and provide support. This works well for large companies because it gives them the advantages of open source, but for smaller companies, who cannot afford to hire a developer it requires either that they hire an outside firm (same problem as Redhat) or that they coordinate with other small companies to jointly pay developers. The problem with this model is that their is no easy way to organize it, and smaller companies rarely can be trusted to look at the long term benefits. They are also motivated to try to shift as much of the financial burden onto others as possible and "leech" software without contributing.

    I think this last model is actually the most workable in the long term. Eventually I think all the major players will come around and realize that by sharing both software and development costs they win in the end and developers still get paid.

    Many people think this will never happen and maybe they are right. I think the advantages of open source (trustable code, no vendor lock-in, code that will never go away, more stable and secure code, more flexible and customizable code, and much, much less expensive software solutions) are just too big of an advantage to be ignored. Big businesses do very stupid things and things that serve the executives more than the shareholders on a regular basis. They also seem to be morons when it comes to choosing which software to use. Perhaps most American businesses will ignore open source as they have in the past. I do not think, however, that all foreign markets will be so blind.

  • Re:I call bull (Score:5, Interesting)

    by malkavian (9512) on Monday April 04, 2005 @11:52AM (#12134321) Homepage
    Actually, it was MS that turned Software into a Commodity by releasing things like Visual Basic.
    Something that in essence you need half a brain and one finger, and you're now a 'Developer'.
    Sure, the low end stuff done by people that don't know what being a Developer really entails are crap, fall over all the time, and are usually really shoddy..
    But, a lot of the time they get things done, sufficiently to make people not want to pay for the real thing.

    In the 'early days', before coding became popular (I started in the early 80's), you did it because it was a passion.
    Then in the 'Golden Age', you could, and did, make shed loads of cash for being good.

    Then everyone and their dog became a 'Developer' with the visual tools, and especially web front ends.
    The market got saturated with a lot of low skilled developers that were good enough to be 'fit for purpose'.
    Then supply outstripped demand. And wages plummeted.

    So, it's not open source that's causing "Starving Artist" syndrome. It's your hallowed Closed Source businesses lowering the bar of entry, and creating the equivalent of a nearly automated software factory.

    In a short time, AI should be able to code better than a skilled developer. Then all that'll be left is getting the spec right, and doing the design abstraction.

    I'm sure that the Monks felt the same way when the printing press was invented.

    What the "Idiots giving it away for free" are doing is simply making sure that there's more than one printing press out there. So at least people that want to learn, get to do so.
    This way, the entry bar pushes more towards having the skill and aptitude to perform a task, rather than having to have massive funding.
    And the meritocracy is beginning to reappear.

    The Free software that's extremely good will get used. If it's that good that it gets used, it WILL need support in enterprise/business.
    If you don't want to do it, make a company, and hire some people that DO want to do support (and you only support them, as you'd have to do with ANY software you write, if you're serious about it). You pay the support staff less than the customer pays you.. And lo and behold! You get a salary (big if the code is something wonderful and useful) for coding! And you've created jobs for people that DO want to do the support too!

    So, in reality those "Idiots" are rather smart, and quite able to make a sizable wad of money out of it.
    If you want to make a lot of money writing software, go do it. But working out how to do it is the trick.
  • by drmike0099 (625308) on Monday April 04, 2005 @12:43PM (#12134831)
    Read the -1 FUD post, because that's useful, but here's my take on your questions (and I'm not a lawyer, so this is just my interpretation). If you want support at all for MySQL from the company, you need a commercial license. You didn't ask that, but that's the easy one.

    If you don't redistribute it, you don't need the commercial license. Note that if you don't distribute code from any open source license, including GPL, you don't need to open your code. OS licenses are based on copyright law, and copyright law doesn't restrict private use, only redistribution (in a general sense). The caveat to that is that I've heard there are some licenses that specifically require you to submit back changes you've made, even if you don't redistribute it, but I don't have any experience w/ those.

    Your second question is trickier. The tone on the licensing site is that yes, you would need a license to do that, unless you released your code under the GPL license. This is the whole "linked library" issue that a lot of commercial entities use to say why they don't use GPL software. However, if you made your system db-agnostic, such that the user could use any database and configured that choice on their own, then I don't think you would have to. You should be making your app db-agnostic anyway, but that means you can't embed non-ANSI-standard SQL statements in your code (i.e. statements that could only run on MySQL) or use other MySQL-specific functions and not distribute it as GPL'ed code. You couldn't redistribute the MySQL w/ your code in that case, but you said you weren't going to anyway.
  • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Interesting)

    by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday April 04, 2005 @01:35PM (#12135368) Homepage Journal

    If I develop A, I still see there is no protection keeping company M from reselling A and making additional money selling add-ons; all for a product that I created. M owes me no money, nor do the add-ons garner me any royalties.

    Assuming A is licensed under the GPL, you can also sell M's add-ons, and contract to create enhancements to A that rely on those add-ons, so you can benefit from M's work just as much as they benefit from yours.

    BTW, I've also done for-pay OSS work recently. Right now I'm writing closed-source software that makes heavy use of OSS components (and carefully complies with all of the relevant licensing requirements). My employer (IBM) is doing lots of both OSS and closed source development, and profiting from nearly all of it.

  • by ComputerSlicer23 (516509) on Monday April 04, 2005 @02:09PM (#12135759)
    Unfortunately, you should have read the article closer. You are making his point. I think he's wrong, but you are restating his point (in fact, you have the most consice summary of his article I've seen). He's saying Open Source acts just like Closed Source when it comes time to making a strategic enterprise software decision. His point appears to be that just because it's open source doesn't free you from having to make a good strategic decision, because X years from now the people behind the software might disappear for financial reasons. I think that he's wrong in his assertion that if a company fails while providing commercial support for Open Source, that means the product goes away. However, that's a different issue.

    What you see as the flaw in his article is the point of his article. His whole point, is that Open Source isn't a magic bullet that means things are going to go well.

    Kirby

  • Re:OpenSourcing a DB (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Martin Marvinski (581860) on Monday April 04, 2005 @04:45PM (#12137527)
    Exactly. Look at what is happening to the VB community. They have no where to turn because MS made their whole code base legacy with VB.NET If VB were open source, they could just fork the project. Instead, they have to petition MS, and MS isn't listening as of yet.

    This is the petition right here. It is signed by many VB MVPs.

    http://classicvb.org/petition [classicvb.org]

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler

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