back to article Docker’s cash conundrum is becoming a bet on a very different future

Docker has a problem: too few whales. Its user demographic is hugely skewed to free plan subscribers, while heavier users (meaning corporate customers) are too thin on the ground to generate enough money through their paid-for tiers. As Docker's financial whizzes can read a spreadsheet as well as anyone, the vendor has been …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "because the industry instinctively understands that this is how good people make good things"

    No, it's just because "the industry" has shifted to make a lot of money not from software but from using software to gather data and sell ads, or selling expensive consulting. The whole open source model is based on the assumption you can give software away from free because revenues will come from other sources. In turn you can exploit a lot of free labour beyond the few ones you are forced to pay - otherwise you'd have to pay a lot more developers to write the same software ("Google: Linux needs far more developers! [but we are not going to pay for them....]).

    That in turn made a lot of software just a by-products of other interests, and in turn, made software a lot worse than it used to be, because as users don't pay for it they have no voice, nor developers are interested in adding more features than those they need for their main product (which is not software).

    Just more and more open source projects found that other revenues sources didn't materialized - so RedHat sold itself to a decaying company like IBM, while others are struggling to find other revenue sources, while the raise of cloud services that can exploit open source without even giving code back is just accelerating the collapse.

    Let's see which model is sustainable, in the end.

    1. Robert Grant

      Re: "because the industry instinctively understands that this is how good people make good things"

      Yes. Lots of OS is sustained by talented individuals in their free time (e.g. Flask) or by big tech employing them for prestige/expertise (e.g. Python).

    2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      RedHat sold itself to a decaying company like IBM

      Er, IBM paid over the odds ($34bn) for Redhat because it needed to control an alternative to Apple and Microsoft so it didn't get stuffed by those companies. It had previously bet on Java as middleware, removing the importance of the OS, and did very well out of this, even as Sun got swallowed up by Oracle.[1]

      But Docker's container concept, created from the imaginative control groups[2] transformed application management. Then we got Kubernetes, sidelining Docker and a million companies trying to create their own ecosystems -- cue Redhat's (=IBM's) Openshift.

      Good luck to Docker, at least they seen to put the technology ahead of shafting as many people as they can. But if they do get the upper hand will they change from a 'do no evil' company...? Any others? OpenAI? Hmm. In the long term we are probably all fucked.

      [1] Are Oracle still going? There are lots of alternatives that don't strap their customers to a barrel and stuff something up their jackies.

      [2] Presumably from the long-standing process groups which have a process group leader, but these could easily be changed by a process, cgroups are fully managed by the kernel so provide much more security.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Er, IBM paid over the odds ($34bn) for Redhat because it needed to control an alternative"

        Really? An alternative to Apple or MS it could get from free? How much did Apple pay to BSD to develop macOS? It doesn't look to me that Google, Facebook, or Amazon worry too much about controlling an alternative to Windows or macOS - they really don't need to buy a Linux distro.

        Believe me - IBM was not interested in the OS - it was interested in the OTHER products RedHat controls, which are used to build enterprise applications like those IBM gets a lot of money to try to build...

        And thank you for remembering us the end of Sun and MySQL - and yes, in some ways Oracle is still going like IBM - because there are a lot of alternatives but building complex applications from them is something most company can't do themselves nor small consultancies - so they call in IBM, Accenture and so on... or some Indian outsourcer...

        It looks the successful FOSS mode is to sell everything to someone with deep enough pockets and laugh all the way to the bank.

  2. raesene

    Docker's problem is an interesting one, and whilst their tooling can be replaced (and indeed for things like Kubernetes clusters it's already being replaced), Docker Hub going away would be a big problem for a large number of companies.

    The number of Dockerfiles, CI/CD pipelines and pieces of automation that Assume Docker Hub will be there is pretty high, and if it vanished there'd be a load of work to do to replace it.

    1. Warm Braw

      if it vanished there'd be a load of work to do

      So I assume you have a contingency plan ready to go?

      All this CI/CD stuff is supposed to deliver reliable, scalable and constantly-evolving business-critical services. That its foundations* are quite so precarious is... ironic. Let's go with ironic.

      *of which Docker Hub is merely one - we're looking at a whole ecosystem of potential fail in the dark depths protected by impenetrable acronyms.

    2. pip25

      That's exactly my issue with Docker's current stance. Running Docker Hub probably costs a good amount of money, and asking users, especially the bigger companies to contribute to those costs is an entirely fair and reasonable thing to do, in my opinion. But monetizing the client? With, erm, "incentives" like being able to turn off autoupdate? I don't see that paying off in the long run, both literally and figuratively.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Docker hub is really not that impressive or are you talking about the build system? Most projects now have CI systems that can fairly easily be extended to build images. For larger projects you're likely to want to build your own images anyway.

        1. pip25

          Docker Hub is not impressive in terms of functionality, but in terms of usage. Basically everyone who uses Docker pulls images from there, if for no other reason than to use them as base for their own. The bandwidth cost of that is quite substantial.

    3. just_a_coder

      No that is wrong, Docker Desktop is not used by most CI builds. All our CI builds use plain Docker and some not even that any more to build images and run/test containers. All Docker Desktop is used for is by developers who do not have Linux (i.e. they use MacOS or Windows) and they want to do local dev/test with containers and k8s. There are alternatives to Docker Desktop but all rely on running Linux in a VM, this would not be so bad for us if our corporate VPN did not screw around with using VMs on your laptop.

      1. sova

        Docker Desktop is exactly as you describe. I was happily using Linux to connect to the corp VPN until the security decided that it is a big no no. So instead of working with the corp IT to provide Linux laptops for those who need it, they forced the use of Windows. Luckily WSL2 and Docker Desktop help somewhat.

  3. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Charge SMEs as well

    250 employees and up is by no coincidence in the MLE category. There's a lot more SMEs out there that can afford to pay a subscription.

    If charging a subscription means that SMEs decide the price/performance isn't sufficient and look around for other solutions, then Docker wasn't actually that revolutionary in the first place.

    1. Flywheel

      Re: Charge SMEs as well

      Yes, they should start looking for/at smaller whales.

  4. werdsmith Silver badge

    It seems perfectly fair to me, that if a company is using some software to produce profit then they owe some of that profit for the software that enables that profit. If the company is not contributing to the development or support of that software then subscribing to a licence seems reasonable.

  5. 1752

    Tiers of a clown

    Thank you, I may easily amused but thank you.

  6. J27

    I think they need to take a look into how a company that essentially just maintains Docker has over 300 employees, that's a lot of overhead to maintain a mature development toolset or even develop a new one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That does seem like a lot of people, rather feels like they grew the headcount too fast without really considering the long (or even medium) term.

      That usually ends up with large redundancies and utterly destroying team morale, as nobody feels secure anymore and managers try to protect their fiefdoms.

      Looking around, Qt has a similar number of employees and around 7-8 times the revenue.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

    What's so dangerous about socialism ?

    It's only rabid, selfish capitalists that rant about socialism.

    I live in a country where you can make a living and, when you fall ill, you can go to the hospital and benefit from help that will not force you to sell your house.

    In my book, socialism is dandy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

      What's so dangerous about socialism ?

      It's only rabid, selfish capitalists that rant about socialism.

      The inhabitants of centrally planned economies also have something to say about socialism. That's why so many people tend to move to the US (for example), compared to the number of people who leave it. Calling people "capitalists" is silly; capitalism for 99% of people who question socialism is just "people/corporations being able to make deals between themselves, within a legal framework". Nothing selfish about that, other than in an Adam Smith sense.

      1. Filippo Silver badge

        Re: "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

        Case in point: some people call China socialist, some people call Europe socialist, but they are extremely different environments (both for individuals, and for companies). The vast majority of people who like the European system very much do not like the Chinese system, and wouldn't like being assumed to advocate for the Chinese system. But it's hard to discuss using ambiguous language.

    2. Naselus

      Re: "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

      ow have you read the Register this long with a broken snark detector?

    3. DCdave

      Re: "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

      What are you doing owning a house. Are you some kind of rabid, selfish capitalist?

    4. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: "Progressive pricing may seem dangerously like socialism"

      The fundamental issue is that different people mean different things when they say "socialism". Depending on who's talking, it might mean "anywhere that has tax-funded healthcare and pensions", or it might mean the USSR, or anything in between.

      At this point, I just try not to use the word, unless I'm prepared to having to explain why I am not advocating for abolishing money.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        I agree with your point.

        To be explicit, for me socialism is a society where money is good, but money is not everything. Health care is primordial, education is primordial, transport infrastructure is primordial, and the laws should be tailored in favor of the population's needs, not in favor of multinational conglomerates.

        Right, Texas ?

  8. Warm Braw

    Once a contribution is written, it stays useful with no further input

    If only that were true.

    Even if the software itself doesn't decay, it becomes further distant from its evolving environment. One of the biggest problems with Open Source software is maintenance. As it is with any other software.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Maintenance is by far the biggest problem in software.

      When you have created something remarkable, people will remember you.

      If you spend 20 years keeping it up to date, that's a lot less likely.

      It takes balls of steel to accept that.

  9. DevOpsTimothyC

    Missing Features

    Last time I looked at Dockerhub (in a professional setting) it lacked critical features like security scanning. Everywhere else I look I get a CVE report for my containers. I'm sure there are other features that people consider critical for commercial adoption.

    It's all well and good to be the first to market, but when your competitors overtake you you need to evolve.

    1. spuck

      Re: Missing Features

      Now that companies are being conditioned that Docker != Free, it may well be time to look for alternatives. If we're resigned to the idea that we're to pay something to someone, it might be time to take a breath and a step back and re-examine if that someone needs to be Docker, or if there are better alternatives.

      1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: Missing Features

        Quite the opposite. Lots of companies think Docker == free because they're using the open source parts. Pulls from Docker's image hosting is the only commercial product they're paying for now.

        Docker's trick will be providing something that corporations WANT to buy, rather than charging for something that developers can replace. I can replace Mac Docker Desktop with an SSH tunnel, so that wasn't a good place for them to start.

      2. DevOpsTimothyC

        Re: Missing Features

        My entire point is that there are alot of alternatives and those alternatives have a richer feature set.

        Businesses will pay for things when they have to but as soon as they start paying most demand value for money and Docker is not currently providing that.

  10. aki009

    Missing the point...

    The issue here is not just that Docker is looking for how to pay for its existence. It's also about how reliable of a supplier it is to companies that rely on it. While having tiered pricing is great for a company going in, being faced with changing rules as time goes on can be highly destructive to trust. Just ask anyone who has done business with Oracle or Microsoft.

    So while creating new paid tier requirements may be the only way forward for Docker, and while the initial requirements are quite reasonable, the concern for businesses is what future changes might happen. It's sort of like the income tax that was introduced just a bit over 100 years ago at 1% (going to 7% for those who made more than 13 million in inflation adjusted dollars). But those numbers hit 23% and 94% just a few decades later.

    So what's Docker's next move? Tighten the screws some more? How?

  11. imanidiot Silver badge

    "the biggest successful non-authoritarian communist experiment on the planet"....

    For certain narrow values and definitions of successful, non-authoritarion and communist. Arguably communism is defined as a state-led form of socialism, in which case communism has about as much to do with open-source as pécan pie.

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