Open Source Business: About the Five Ws

Reading Matt Asay‘s speculations about making money off open source, or conversely Stormy Peters arguing about who is going to pay open source production of code, I remembered about the five (or six) Ws formula (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How).

Few good questionsFew good questions by Oberazzi

Talking about making money from open source we often take for granted that we are talking of IT SMEs. In a word we answer “open source firm” to the very first question, that is both wrong (see Mozilla) and inaccurate (see internal OS development).

What is also a good question. Not only is false that all open source vendors produce software the same way, but is indeed true that exist companies making money with open source neither writing code nor selling it. As a matter of fact there are companies out there appropriating returns from the commons in original ways, taking advantage of the (frequent) absence of corporate actors within many open source projects.

About Where. Many US open source vendors are experiencing problems approaching the European market, John Netwon Alfresco’s CTO once talking of how different are those two markets said me is a cultural issue. Whatever is the actual reason in Europe many System Integrators sell open source solutions their customers, giving little (if any) value back to the original authors. It maybe a chicken-egg problem, but viable channel partner programs are definitely needed to effectively aggress new (and different) markets.

Time is all that matters, When is another key question. Time affects everything, business included. Think of companies like Zenoss and GroundWork, differentiating on features their commercial and community products. They will need to keep adding more features, working hard on retaining good relationships with their communities of developers, users and customers.

Think also of MySQL. The dual licensing was really relevant in the past, today but is less and less relevant today, as Marten told me recently. Probably a better general understanding of open source licenses’ obligations is bringing more and more companies to use open source in the right way, and MySQL shifted to sell subscriptions instead.

We all know Why, but there is a lot to tell about How, soon.

Technorati Tags: commercial open source, open source business, business models, MySQL, Zenoss, Groundwork, MattAsay, StormyPeters