Understanding how open source and commercial software products co-exist

Its sometimes difficult to understand how open source (i.e. community driven) software and commercial operations can co-exist. Yesterday’s XenSource presentation gave me a great example of how the model works:

  • The open source Xen project provides code which generally falls under three categories:
    • Stable and tested
    • Not tested
    • Unstable
  • XenSource (the commercial company) takes the stable and tested elements of the solution and combines these with proprietary elements to produce a commercial product. It also contributes code to the open source project along with bug fixes.
  • XenSource has the resources to provide enterprise-level quality assurance and testing, including manual and automated regression testing, optimisations and beta test programmes. These contribute further fixes for inclusion in the product(s).
  • The result is a commercial product (in this case three products) which promote open source software development at the same time as providing a revenue stream for ongoing product development.

My last question to ask is “what about the community developers who devoted their time to the project?” – it would be interesting to hear how those who contribute code that then makes profit for faceless shareholders feel but I suspect they derive their benefits in a far more altruistic manner:

  • A feeling of community and pride in having contributed to a widely-deployed software product.
  • Access to source code in order to develop and extend the community versions of the product.
  • In the case of the project founders and leaders, financial recognition through their involvement in the commercial company.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that just because software is open source doesn’t mean it’s free (of charge).

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