TD;DR: I’m writing this post to promote an event. 28th September, London, at London Open Source Databases meetup. It’s called Open Source Communities: vendors and users working together.
Now that I’ve spoilered the end of the article, let me be a bit passionate and verbose. I want to explain why I believe that the subject of this event is so damn important, especially these days.
The importance of a discussion
In recent times, we’ve seen several open source database projects switching to a proprietary license. The most famous examples are MongoDB and Redis. The first project in chronological order was MaxScale, as far as I know. They adopted an “almost open” license, where two years old versions become open source, and in the meanwhile you have restrictions. A more interesting move that made by CockroachDB, which basically has restrictions that only applies to cloud vendors, while the code is still de facto open source for everyone else. A move in the opposite direction was made by YugaBute, that recently became 100% open source.
Another project that is worth mentioning is FusionDB. Currently it only has an alpha release, which is not open. They want to finally release the code with an open source license, but they are taking their time to find out how to do that in a sustainable way. Adam Retter gave a presentation called Database Licensing Chaos at London Open Source Databases meetup.
YugaByte’s move is good and I applaud it, but it seems to be an exception, not a trend. It looks like the market has changed – mainly because we’re in the era of cloud computing – and some companies don’t know how to make money while remaining in the open source space. Indeed some changes are needed. OSS vendors need to find new ways to be attractive, ways that cannot be emulated by cloud vendors. And I’m sure that this can be done without betraying your user base.
But before going forward, we need to make a step back. Let’s get back to the basics. Do you remember when Linux was young, and Mozilla represented a freedom of knowledge, and PHP and MySQL were the proof that we didn’t really need rich companies’ precompiled code?
Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.
The fact that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock. As I learned my way around, I worked hard not just at individual projects, but also at trying to understand why the Linux world not only didn’t fly apart in confusion but seemed to go from strength to strength at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric Steven Raymond
Yes, it was written some time ago. 1991 was not five years ago, and we grew older since then. But, blimey, Eric was right!
The importance of open source
Did you ever stop to think why is open source so fascinating, and why companies should choose the open source model for their software products? I have some points that I’ve been repeating for years. I’ll show them here from both points of view: vendor’s and community’s.
- Code: the most obvious form of contribution.
- For the vendor, this means development at a low cost – of course reviews and collaboration with the contributors are needed, but not as expensive as developing a feature from scratch.
- From users point of view, this means that they’ll hopefully have the features they want in their products, or they can fix a bug they hit.
- QA: bug reports, verification, voting.
- The vendor hopefully has a good QA process. But no single company can achieve the same results of a big, vibrant community using the product in the real world in a range of contexts. Fixing bugs reported by users has also the effect of making them more loyal.
- The community can report bugs they hit. They can also comment bugs reported by others to let the vendor know that fixing them is important.
- Technical contents: articles, speeches, tutorials, books…
- The vendor maintains a documentation, which is essential. Without a documentation, a product cannot be used. But that is just the basis. The documentation is not necessarily the best way for a beginner to learn a product, and it cannot cover all advanced techniques or non-common use cases. The vendor itself may not know all the ways a product is used – and learning what users do is very important.
- Every member of the community can have a personal advantage in promoting a certain product, especially if they do consulting. Other times, they just express a honest technical opinion on the quality of a product – which is the best form of evangelism. The vendor’s benefit from this free evangelism is obvious.
- Sometimes, evangelism is also competition. Maybe a technology advisor installs a certain product for its customers – and those customer will not be vendor’s customers. Competition will always exist, but a competitor who makes your user base grow is not an enemy.
In my dreams, this event is the first of a series. It may happen or not, depending how much interest I see. But if you happen to be in London, I really suggest you to come. I’ve managed to get two exceptional speakers – who don’t leave in the UK – before they go to Amsterdam to attend Percona Live.
Their history makes them some of the best persons to explain why to collaborate with an open source community, and how to do it right. Their background in their own words:
- Colin Charles was an employee at MySQL, co-founder of MariaDB Server, and now spends time on cool projects in the open source space. Community wise, he has past involvement in The Fedora Project & OpenOffice.org. His talk is: Community vs. Enterprise: How Not to Piss off your community and still build a profitable business.
- Anastasia Raspopina organized tech events for 1600+ hackers, worked on Percona History Book and authored ideas & structures for super popular tech talks with zero tech background. The Power of Community: Non-Linear Approach That Pays Off.
I’ve had the privilege to work with them both, in Percona.
See the event page ion Meetup.com for many more details. And please don’t forget to register. See you at London Open Source Databases meetup!
EDIT: Anastasia wrote an interesting article you may want to read: Community as No System. 7 Lessons Learnt from Years in Communications.