The open core business model is NOT open source

Henrik Igo (excerpts) in debate with MySQL:

1. Open Core is NOT Open Source

“In short, open core is a model where a company produces a product that is mostly available as open source, but then there are some closed source components around the open source “core”. The point of the model is that it is supposedly easier to sell closed source than open source. Most open core companies (including MySQL, Eucalyptus and JasperSoft) started by being fully open source, but then start adding closed source components as a way to boost sales.

The closed version is often called “Enterprise” version, this terminology was first used by Red Hat (which is not open core) and is the same as used by closed source software companies. (For instance Oracle Enterprise is the costly version of the Oracle database.)

So why is open core not an open source business model?

I think it is worth repeating again and again that open source is a very well defined concept. You can read the Open Source Definition at This is a definition that was agreed in the last century. It is not being discussed anymore.

And open core does not qualify as open source, as per the definition. It is closed source. It is the opposite of open source.”

2. Is Open Core Evil?

“The problem with these open core companies is that they are usually a step in the wrong direction.

MySQL, Eucalyptus and JasperSoft all started as pure open source projects and were then steered into adding closed source pieces by a management team wanting to take the product more proprietary. For instance in MySQL’s case this strategy was rather invasive, the plans extended much further into the server itself than just a monitoring tool.

Mårten’s argument indeed is that with the revenues derived from selling this closed source software, we can then develop more open source software.

In my opinion, this is a dishonest argument. Also Bill Gates donates a lot of his money to charity, and this is really nice of him, but I still wouldn’t recommend any of Microsoft’s closed source software because of that.

If your business is to sell closed source software, then your incentives will be not to produce open source software, but to produce as much closed source software as you can get away with. In MySQL’s case they eventually had to backtrack on the plans of open source backup, because they didn’t get away with it. The public pressure became a burden for Sun and MySQL management had to give up those plans. (Btw, I’m informed that Oracle will have no such regrets and has revitalized the plans for closed source backup tools.)

So if you ask me, we in the open source community should make it as difficult as possible for these companies to “get away with” their plans to take our software and make it closed source. We should openly criticize anyone who markets himself as open source but really just sells closed source software.

As much as I like the fact that venture capital is flowing into open source companies, if all they want to do is take our software and make it closed source, then thanks, but no thanks. Free Software was not created to benefit venture capitalists, it was created to benefit and protect the freedoms of the users and developers of the software. We welcome them into our community if they want to join, but they are our guests. We should not let them get away with a plan based on taking a nice open source project and making it increasingly closed source.”

3. Are there alternatives?

“The final thing that I really don’t like about the proliferation of open core is that mostly it is just lack of imagination and effort. It’s like someone was put as a manager of an open source company, and after a while realizes selling is tough since most users choose not to pay. After some brainstorming you end up with “so let’s just go back to selling closed source software”. It just feels so lame, somehow, to me.

If you really wanted to stay open source (as defined by the definition), then you could think of ways to create a profitable business without having to produce closed source software. After all, Red Hat and Canonical are probably our two most successful open source companies today, and they seem to do this just fine. If anything, committing to being fully open source has been beneficial to them, not the other way round.”

Further reading: a similar case, Eucalyptus

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.