A lot has been written recently about so called “Open Core” software ever since Andrew Lampitt coined the term back in August of 2008. Many analysts have been critical about it, such as Richard Hillesley from The H Open in his recent article “Open core, closed heart?”. Many are also very positive about it such as Matt Aslett from The 451 Group. However, I think that most them are missing the elephant in the room: Open core is not sustainable in the long term because it represents the worst of both worlds. Open core tries to find a middle ground between proprietary software and free software, but it reaps the benefits of neither and inherits the problems of both.
Let me show you by example. SugarCRM is one of the more popular open core software products available. The company offers the Community Edition for free under a GPLv3 license but also offers a Professional and Enterprise edition under a proprietary license. SugarCRM has been around since 2004 but it is already showing many signs of not being sustainable.
The news of the Microsoft-Novell deal is hard to miss in the Linux community. The reactions range from very negative to vaguely neutral. The most interesting bit of the agreement for me are the patent clauses. Did Novell sign away it's future by mistake or did it cleverly safeguard the future of Mono, Samba and OpenOffice.org?
Once again, we have Harald Welte, and his lawyer, Till Jaeger, a co-founder of the Institute for Legal Issues of Free and Open Source Software (ifrOSS), to thank for insisting on folks living up to their GPL obligations. D-Link Germany GmbH on the losing side tried to allege that the GPL wasn't binding because it violated Germany's antitrust law and interfered with its contracts with third parties. A translation [of the ruling]:
Because the defendent has violated the designated obligations of number 2 GPL, the cancelling condition is met with the consequence, that the defendant lost his right of use. [...] It is not decided, whether, how the defendant claims, the rulings in the GPL are invalid because of violation against Art. 81 EGV and §1 GWB - in particular the prohibition of price bindings and the prohibition of constituting conditions for a follow up agreement in a first agreement. Because this would lead, according to §139 BGB, to the nullity of the whole license agreement with the consequence, that the defendant had no right of use at all, so that the plaintiff could claim against the defendant out of violation of copyrights.
And that's exactly what Eben Moglen has been telling you for years, isn't it? Moglen has explained for many years that the way the GPL works is this: if you don't accept it or violate its terms, you have no right to distribute at all, and if you do distribute anyway, it's a copyright violation, because only the license gives you any distribution rights.