I was at the Web 2.0 conference a few days ago and spoke to Dan Farber of ZDNet, whom I run into routinely at open source conferences. Dan mentioned that he thought a lot of the companies that are promoting open source really have more of a hybrid model. For example companies like SugarCRM, JasperSoft, Al Fresco, Pentaho all have a very capable open source offering as well as additional commercial offerings which are closed source. The open source products are hugely popular and fully functional. There's no crippleware or limited demo; it's what-you-see-is-what-you-get fully open source software under an OSI compliant license. And all of these companies have significant communities and a growing business that enables them to continue to invest in open source. So the products, both open source and commercial, continue to get better and better with each release.
In my view there's nothing wrong with the hybrid model as long as people are clear about what is open source and what is not. At MySQL we have a model that all our software is open source (under the GPL). In fact we've even open sourced software that was previously closed, such as the MySQL Cluster technology that was originally a closed source high performance telcom database. We have a business model where we offer MySQL Network, a subscription service that adds value on top of our Community Edition with certified software, support services, a knowledge base, indemnification and software advisors. When we launched MySQL Network we were very clear to everyone that our goal was to add value and not take anything away from the community. That's a good approach and it works for us. But there's more than one way to skin a cat, and other companies may choose a very different model. In my view it doesn't make them any less open source than MySQL, Apache, Red Hat or JBoss et al. If you like their software, use it. If you don't, add to it or write your own. There's no lock-in and you can always stay open source. If you want the convenience of additional features or services, then you can buy those.
SugarCRM has a bunch of very smart guys who are totally committed to open source. They were the first application company to dive into the open source pool and prove that open source can continue to move up the stack. They happen to be down the street from us in Cupertino and users of MySQL so we compare notes on occasion about business, technology, SQL tuning tips and what not. They have a free open source version of SugarCRM published under a Mozilla license and they have a Pro Edition that has some additional group capabilities that are not open source. (You can actually get the source code, but its not published under an OSI license.) But there's no hidden agenda or surprises and you're free to use the open source offering forever, to add to it, and you never need to buy anything from SugarCRM if you don't want to. Dan Farber in his blog talks to John Roberts, SugarCRM CEO, about their model and John makes a pretty good case for why they chose it.
SugarCRM is able to get the best of both worlds by building on open source and they commit over half of their resources (well over half for many releases) to working on the open source product. They also have a thriving community that helps create add-ons, new features, translations and more. All of that code stays open source.
What do you think? Is there room for diversity of business models in the open source world?