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A business model for making good software
Bazaar Source is an attempt to codify a new way of promoting open source
development of a product while giving the developer exclusive rights to
sell the product. After all, if they developed the product, they have a
right to distribute it however they want. Hopefully Bazaar Source
can be used as a
basis for increasing the Linux application space, which while growing,
is not growing at a uniform rate. Interesting projects are sprouting up,
but Linux versions of dull products are not.
Cathedral and the
described a new way of
developing software. Traditional software has been developed in
a top down or Cathedral style. Eric recognized a new way of developing
software, the bazaar style. In this style, one person or group develops
a piece of software. They then release the software to the community
with the source code, and allow the community to review, modify and
redistribute the software. This merges the user base into part of the
developer base. This is the major reason behind the success of the
Apache web server and the Linux operating system.
software originates from this idea. By making source code
open it allows the user community to modify and improve the software
they are using. In the sequel to Cathedral and the Bazaar
the Noosphere, Raymond
describes the culture of the open source community. He assumes that in
the open source community there is no material scarcity because the
cost of duplicating software is nil. But there is scarcity, it is the
scarcity of programmer talent and time.
However it is my belief that
a complex software project is not possible unless the employer allows
the developer to develop on company time or the developer is of
independent means (the few cases where the developer chooses to live in their
office and shower in the mens room are not considered). There are very
few projects that excite enough interest to develop completely outside of
the typical 8-12+ hour day a normal programmer works.
Therefore, it is not usually
feasible to manage very large projects this way. Most very large open
projects are funded by a corporation to serve their ends (Re: Perl or
Apache funded by O'Rielly, Linux funded by Transmeta, Redhat, VA.).
In the 3rd paper in the CatB series,
several reasons a corporation might release software as open source.
For each one of the above, the software is secondary to the companies
primary revenue stream. For a software development firm, especially one
that specializes in Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) applications,
open source licensing can be a problem.
- A piece of software is so simple that is makes sense to share
the costs of development and maintianance with other companies,
- Risk Sharing
- A piece of software was needed, but it provides little
competitive advantage. By opening the code up to the community, others
can benefit, and the company benefits from other's changes.
- Market Positioner
- Release some code as open source to promote other closed source
- Widget Frosting
- If the companies primary business is a scarce resource (like a
HW vendor), open source the software to sell more units.
- Service industry
- If the companies primary revenue is from content or service
then releasing the software will improve the service.
COTS applications are funded from revenue generated by selling copies of
the software. Service and accessorizing cannot support the expense of
highly trained and skillful craftsman developing software.
Free redistribution poses a problem for generating revenue. A
user is more likely to down load the software off the Net than buy a
CD, especially if the software package is small.
To quote a slashdot user:
"Anyone with half a brain knows you can make money with Open Source. The problem is, you don't make that money by developing open source software. You make it by selling open source software other people wrote....the open-source developers are either an expense or unpaid volunteers."
Looking at the ownership principles laid out in ESR HtN, we see that
projects are rarely forked because of social pressures in the
community. Only if the owner is negligent or abandons the project will a
new owner assume control. The only other way was for the owner to transfer
ownership to the new owner.
There exists a solution, and it lies somewhere between open and closed
source. To explain it we first need to look at the advantages of the
open source's bazaar development model.
Advantages of Bazaar development
ESR described the bazaar model as "a great babbling bazaar of differing
agendas and approaches out of
which a coherent and stable system could...emerge..."
What are the biggest advantages of the bazaar model:
- Peer Review
- Ability to customize to suit needs.
- Almost limitless talent available.
- Debugging is parallelizable (Linus's Law)
- Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's
- Must begin with code.
The Bazaar Source model
If technical merit is more important that freedom, which is a more
pragmatic view then the Free Software purists, then we can propose a new
development model. Lets call it Bazaar Source.
Bazaar Source exists somewhere between Open and Closed Source, but it
isn't as restrictive as Sun's Community Source License.
In the Bazaar Source model the user purchases the software as COTS, but
along with a license to use the software, the user purchases a license
to use the source code. The user is free to modify the code as he/she
sees fit. The user is permitted to redistribute the modifications, and
only the modifications (usually in the form of a patch), as
he/she sees fit. However the sole right to redistribute the base software
rests with the person or company that developed it.
This model benefits the developer by permitting them compensation for
their work, while at the same time benefitting the consumer by allowing
them access to the source code.
It is also possible a symbiotic relationship can develop between
the users and the developer. If a user finds and fixes a bug or adds a
new feature, the user can give the patch back to the developer. The
user benefits by improving the overall package, and the developer
benefits by having a large number of eyes looking for bugs or adding
features. This will lower the developer's cost to maintain the
software thereby lowering the per copy costs to the consumer. It would
be good ettiquite for the developer to compensate a user who submits
a patch in some form.
Comparison of Bazaar Source and Other licensing models.
Open Source Definition
By visiting the
Open Source Definition
we can do a point by point
comparison between Open and Bazaar Source.
A Comparison to the
Community Source License.
- Free Redistribution.
- A COTS software package cannot coincide with free redistribution for
reasons previously states.
- Source Code.
- The core of the bazaar development is access to the source code.
Bazaar Source software must provide a license to use the source code.
- Derived Works.
- A Bazaar Source license should allow the author of a modification to
redistribute the _source_ of the _modification_ under any license the
author chooses, even if the modification cannot be merged back into the
main code base. It does not however give the author of the modification
the right to re-distribute the original or modified software as a
- Integrity of The Author's Source Code.
- Because the bazaar source license prohibits redistribution of a
modification as a whole, the only way to redistribute a modification is
via a patch file.
- No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups.
- No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor.
- Discriminating against any customers is bad business practice and
should not be an issue in selling bazaar software.
- Distribution of License.
- Because Bazaar software is sold by the developer to the user, point 7
does not apply.
- License Must Not Be Specific to a Product.
- The bazaar source license allows any use of the source code of
software as the user sees fit, with the exception of redistribution. It
is perfectly reasonable to purchase a bazaar source product, to use
some code from that product
in another program. However by doing so you limit the ability to
redistribute the new software.
- License Must Not Contaminate Other Software.
- A bazaar source license places no restrictions on the other software
that may be distributed on the same medium.
Bazaar Source is less restrictive then the SCSL:
The SCSL also is more centrally controlled by Sun. With Bazaar Source,
development is not centrally controlled and anyone can organize development
- modifications can be released under any license. The developer has no
right to include any published modification in it's release.
- modifications can be released to anyone.
- Should be project die or be discontinued, the source code will fall
under an Open Source License
Prerequisite for Bazaar Source to work
For bazaar source software to be accepted by the general user community
And the developer must:
- be software that the community doesn't have the itch to develop.
- In CatB ESR explained that most projects were developed to scratch an
itch the developers had. There are some projects that are just not
interesting. Sales forecasting tools and business accounting programs are
much less interesting than network monitoring tools or graphic user
- be reasonably priced
- If a software package is priced at $100-$300 for say a contact
management tool or an office suite, there will be a demand for a lower
cost alternative. Most likely an open source version will take come along and
price it out of the market. I would propose charging one fifth of what the
typical closed source COTS product would cost.
- be released often
- Releasing often allows community modifications to be incorporated
back into the product rapidly. Each of these minor releases should be
made available at no cost to the purchasers of the software.
- be a fast, reliable product.
- Along the lines of reasonably priced, if a package is buggy or slow
there will be demand of a fully open source alternative.
- Allow contributions, and give credit where due.
- The gift culture of the hacker community is based on reputation and
recognition of contributions. As such to take someone else's work
without giving credit is the worst sin a developer can do. Anyone who
does this would alienate the community so much that they might as well
never release their code to begin with.
- Provide compensation to contributors
- Beyond recognition for their contributions, since the developer is
making money off the product it is only fair to compensate them for
- Contribute back to the community at large.
- End user applications are one area where free redistribution can pose
a problem, however experience has shown infrastructural software,
(webservers, GUI development libraries) can be made open source while
still able to generate revenue for the company. Therefore if a company
is engaged in bazaar source software sales, it is reasonable to expect
them to release infrastructural software under an open source license.
- Provide a open source compliant "death clause"
- If a project is killed, or the company goes under, there must be a way
for the community to get ownership of the software. Otherwise the
project would die with the developer. The licensing provision also
gives more value to the software in that the user knows the software
will continue on after the developer as gone.
- Provide the extras: Support and Documentation.
- Contrary to the FSF's ideals, there is more free software than there
is free documentation. Software development is an art. Technical writing
is a profession. There is much more "fun" in producing software then in
producing documentation. Hence when the developer sells the software
they must include the documentation to provide value. They should also
provide the infrastructure to handle support for corporate customers.
- Make provisions for customers who make internal modifications to keep
those modifications across versions.
- When a customer modifies the code for their own internal use, they
need some mechanism to maintain those changes across multiple versions.
- Mutual Trust
- The developer must be trusted by the community to do the "right
thing(tm)". Otherwise they would not participate in the community
Where to go from here
Bazaar source allows companies to distribute their source code as part
of their product while maintaining their ability to charge for their
product. It allows open source like contributions to occur, and provides
direction in dealing with the community that assists in development.
If this idea is generally accepted by a reasonable portion of the Linux
(and BSD/BeOS/Windows) user population, this licensing scheme can be
used to found successful software companies that can publish their
source for the community to use.
Questions or comments should be sent to: Chris Farris chrisf at room17.com
Copyright 1999, Room17 Enterprises, all rights reserved.
File Last modified on:
Saturday, 17-Jul-1999 10:39:36 PDT