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Do Alternative Software Licenses Represent Open Source's 'Midlife Crisis'?


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"it is clear to me that open source -- now several decades old and fully adult -- is going through its own midlife crisis," writes Joyent CTO Bryan Cantrill.
[O]pen source business models are really tough, selling software-as-a-service is one of the most natural of them, the cloud service providers are really good at it -- and their commercial appetites seem boundless. And, like a new cherry red two-seater sports car next to a minivan in a suburban driveway, some open source companies are dealing with this crisis exceptionally poorly: they are trying to restrict the way that their open source software can be used. These companies want it both ways: they want the advantages of open source -- the community, the positivity, the energy, the adoption, the downloads -- but they also want to enjoy the fruits of proprietary software companies in software lock-in and its concomitant monopolistic rents. 

If this were entirely transparent (that is, if some bits were merely being made explicitly proprietary), it would be fine: we could accept these companies as essentially proprietary software companies, albeit with an open source loss-leader. But instead, these companies are trying to license their way into this self-contradictory world: continuing to claim to be entirely open source, but perverting the license under which portions of that source are available. Most gallingly, they are doing this by hijacking open source nomenclature. Of these, the laughably named commons clause is the worst offender (it is plainly designed to be confused with the purely virtuous creative commons), but others...are little better...

"[T]heir business model isn't their community's problem, and they should please stop trying to make it one," Cantrill writes, adding letter that "As we collectively internalize that open source is not a business model on its own, we will likely see fewer VC-funded open source companies (though I'm honestly not sure that that's a bad thing)..." He also points out that "Even though the VC that led the last round wants to puke into a trashcan whenever they hear it, business models like 'support', 'services' and 'training' are entirely viable!"

Jay Kreps, Co-founder of @confluentinc, has posted a rebuttal on Medium. "How do you describe a license that lets you run, modify, fork, and redistribute the code and do virtually anything other than offer a competing SaaS offering of the product? I think Bryan's sentiment may be that it should be called the Evil Proprietary Corruption of Open Source License or something like that, but, well, we disagree."

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