Echo Linux

Open Core; Open Source; Open Season

While reading up on the debate about WordPress themes, I stumbled onto a tangential but wider-range debate: Open Source vs. Open Core. The difference (for those of you like me who had never heard the term “Open Core”) is that the former provides all access to source code and lets you do what you want with the software (within the framework of its license), and the latter has open source and licensed components at its core but then has proprietary components and services that one purchases from the company licensing the software.


Think of it like a pineapple. I can give you a pineapple, and you can do whatever you want with that pineapple. The pineapple is open source.

But eating the pineapple is hard. It’s tough and difficult to hold, and while you might be able to figure out how to deal with it eventually, it’s generally too much of a bother. So you buy something else to make it easier: your fruit seller has a bundle that includes a cutting board and a knife. The Pineapple Bundle has something at its core with which you can do as you please–if you want to give it away, or plant the seeds and make more pineapples, or whatever, that’s fine. But the knife and cutting board has restrictions: you have to keep it near the fruit seller’s, can’t give it away, and definitely can’t take it into banks or airports.

Pineapple = Open Source

Pineapple Bundle = Open Core

OK, so now that I understand a bit better what’s going on, what’s all the fuss about? Branding, says Dave Neary.

When you get down to it this is a fight over branding – which is why the issue is so important to the OSI folks (who are all about the brand). I don’t actually care that much how SugarCRM, Jahia, Alfresco et al make the software they sell to their customers. As a customer I’m asking a whole different set of questions to “is this product open source?” I want to know how good the service and support is, how good the product is, and above all, does it solve the problem I have at a price point I’m comfortable with. The license doesn’t enter into consideration.

Mr. Neary links to a few other blogs, all interesting reads, and as the observations develop it does seem to come down to perspective: are you approaching this debate from the perspective of a customer, or a developer/business owner? If you’re a customer, you often don’t care about the license. You might get warm fuzzies from the thought of “Open Source,” just like we love everything labeled as “green.” But really, we want to know if the product improves our lives in some way.

If you’re a developer, you want to make sure you have the ability to do the work you want to do, and you want to make sure everyone is being honest and fair in their word choice. I was pretty pissed about Microsoft’s “Open Office XML” format, whichimplies one thing but gives another. “Open Core” dilutes the brand of “Open Source” and just makes things more difficult.

So which side are you on? Does the label “Open Core” contribute or detract? Is it real and helpful, or just a marketing scheme? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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