Proprietary Open Source

Proprietary Open Source

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some business circles where companies are eager to use open source. Open source is the “thing to do” and everyone is doing it. I love it. The more the world uses open source the better. The problem comes when the businesses are using open source but keeping their same closed source mindset! That’s not the open source way. That’s a business interested in open source merely to be included in a trend. That’s a poor attempt at proprietary open source.

What do I mean by proprietary open source? I’m glad you asked! It’s a bit of a contradiction those two words, and yet it seems to be what some businesses try to do. Here’s what I mean.

Protect the Code

The first thing these faux-open source businesses want to do is protect their code. They want to be accepted as open source by the world but they have failed to understand some of the very basic tenants of the open source way. I don’t mean they want to protect the code from being used incorrectly or broken. I mean they want to lock the code down and prevent it from being manipulated, used, or distributed by others. They want to keep the code from being universally accessible. For those who may not recognize those last two words, they are pulled directly from Wikipedia’s definition of open source.

A business cannot be an open source business if they fail to follow the very definition of open source. The right way to protect the code is not obfuscating, encrypting, or otherwise restricting access to the code. Successful open source businesses understand this.

Dominate the Market

The second signal of a false open source company is their singular quest to dominate a market. Of course every business seeks to be successful and success can be enhanced by complete control over a space but this is not the reason to select open source. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being the best or being the company which stands head and shoulders above the rest. But dominating a market should not be the reason a business chooses to be open source.

Open source is about sharing. Sharing knowledge, experience, and expertise. Open source encourages everyone to grow and to use the power of the community to improve.

Make a Profit

Making a profit is an important part of any business. If a business doesn’t make a profit then the business will fold. Of course I would never suggest that a business not seek to be successful. I’m always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase profitability and grow the businesses I’m involved with. I do mean that if a business selects open source purely with the goal to make a profit then they have not understood the purpose of open source. There are many examples and long debates on open source as a successful business model. This is not my point. A business should not be consumed purely with being profitable and as a result view open source merely as a way to generate revenue.

Miss the Point

When I see a business exhibiting the above symptoms I immediately begin to think they are missing the point. They fail to understand the open source way. The reasons for using and contributing and working with open source are many. I’ve heard countless stories from people I greatly respect on why they work with open source. The more I hear these stories the more stark the contrast becomes when I see someone fighting to keep their code “protected” and keep their business in control of a marketplace. I realize these businesses have missed the point.

Lead the Way

The open source way is indeed a different way of thinking. It requires a dedication and focus on more than a single business. Is your business an open source business? Is your focus on an open source world? There are many, many great resources available to help you as you learn more about open source and doing business in an open source marketplace. Will you be one of them? I encourage you to consider it. Consider promoting open source. Lead the way.