We need a new way to think about open source

Open source is about community, so why can’t we get along? I’m referring to the recent fracas between Elastic and AWS, but we’ve dealt with similar issues for many years.

In this most recent episode of Open Source Wars, Elastic accused AWS of “behavior [that] is inconsistent with the norms and values that are especially important in the open source ecosystem.” AWS responded that, actually, it’s Elastic that is violating open source norms and values, leading AWS to fork Elasticsearch and Kibana to “foster healthy and sustainable open source practices—including implementing shared project governance with a community of contributors.”

Personally, I don’t think this conflict is a matter of licensing. I mean, it is, but that’s just a symptom, not the cause. The heart of the problem is about who gets to profit from open source software. To help resolve that problem, we just might need new licensing, as well as a new way to describe such licensing. (Am I about to suggest “shared source?” Yes, I am, but stay with me.)

Let’s ‘get the facts’

First, a disclosure: I work for AWS. Second, another disclosure: I have been involved in open source for a lot longer (nearly 20 years longer) than I’ve worked for AWS. My open source identity comes first. It’s more important to me. In writing this, I’m writing as Matt, the open source guy who works for AWS today but has advocated for open source since my first job with embedded Linux vendor Lineo, way back in 2000. (Third disclosure: I’m old. Could you please get off my open source lawn?)

With this in mind, let me share some objective truths:

  1. Building great open source software that lots of people want to use is very hard;
  2. Making money from that great open source software is arguably even harder;
  3. Just because you write great software doesn’t mean you have a right to profit therefrom, and open sourcing your code means others have an equal opportunity to try; and
  4. Some companies have been faster to figure out open source monetization than others.

Over the past few decades as an industry we’ve experimented with different business models for open source, such as support (bad idea!) and open core (has its own issues). But the cleanest model, and the one that has proven best at aligning customer and vendor interests, is managed cloud services, as I’ve written.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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