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The fourth stage of open source commercialization

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
5th November 2010


I would now define stage 4.0 of commercial open source as characterized by corporate-dominated development communities … If open-core was a significant revenue strategy of open source 3.0, then expect the various complementary strategies to be the dominant revenue strategies of open source 4.0. While these companies remain reliant on closed source software to generate revenue the fact that they do not attempt to generate revenue from open source software directly enables them to engage in collaborative development projects in which all participants are able to benefit mutually from their collective efforts. This is not going to result in the displacement of closed source providers by open source specialists but it may be the optimum balance of open source licensing and commercial business strategies. From that perspective this may well be the start of the golden age of open source.

Excerpted from Matthew Aslett :

“What is the fourth stage of commercial open source? In short: a return to a focus on collaboration and community, as well as commercial interests.

Open source 1.0 was characterized by software developed by communities of individuals and academia, with key projects including Apache, GNU, the Linux kernel, PostgreSQL and BSD Unix.

Open source 2.0 was characterized by vendors beginning to engage with those existing developer communities, specifically the various Linux distributors that emerged, as well as the involvement in Linux, Apache and other projects by systems vendors such as IBM, Sun and HP.

Seeing the opportunity to disrupt existing markets with open source licensing a group of entrepreneurs created the vendor-dominated open source development/distribution projects that would come to epitomize open source 3.0: MySQL, JBoss et al.

The rapid growth of these companies and the rapid adoption of their software briefly allowed people to believe that the golden age of open source would see closed source vendors replaced by open source alternatives. However, that potential required a compromise.

While the first two stages were focused on collaborative development as a by-product of open source licensing the projects and vendors that characterized the third stage were focused on market disruption through widespread distribution and typically eschewed the potential advantages of collaborative development in favour of control over the future development of the project.

There have been plenty of debates recently about whether this is the “right” approach to open source. While I would continue to maintain that collaborative development is neither necessary or guaranteed for open source software it is clear that the lack of collaborative development is potentially sub-optimal for both vendors and users/customers.

That was why we predicted increased emphasis on collaborative development for non-differentiating code in the stage 4.0 of commercial open source.

While we previously expected this to be characterized by formal, “vendor-dominated development communities” such as Eclipse and Symbian it has become clear that the process is much more fluid, and the participants are not necessarily vendors.”

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