back to article HashiCorp's new license is still open source-ish, just with less free lunch

HashiCorp, the vendor of Vagrant, Terraform, and a number of other deployment-automation tools, is changing its software license to the Business Source License. You can still get the source code, but it's not technically FOSS any more. The announcement came out yesterday from co-founder and CTO Armon Dadgar, who The Reg …

  1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Linux

    Only one question matters

    Is stoning, burning, or drowning the appropriate punishment for heresy in the modern age?

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Ah, Open Source

    I still don't really understand these arguments. You started Open Source, free for all. Now that you have business people telling you that you can make mint out of that code, you're switching allegiance.

    That feels more than a bit like a bait-and-switch to me. I'm pretty sure that, if their code had not garnered interest outside of the ham radio community (just an example), they wouldn't have bothered.

    But no, they started Open Source so everyone could benefit and marvel at all they could do with the code, and now that they're successful, oh, hey, you should pay now.

    I think there needs to be some honesty in the Open Source realm, as in new projects should clearly state if their intention is to monetize and change licenses down the line.

    And, in any case, I don't think it is fair to put a blanket change on the code. You want to change license ? Fine. State that, as of YYYY/MM/DD, the last version under Open Source is the current NN.XXX.ZZZZ-WWWW (version numbers are such a hassle these days), and as of version BB.FFFF, the license changes to pay as you go (or whatever).

    That would be more honest for everyone, and much less hypocritical for the company.

    The other solution, of course, is to always be wary of a company offering code as Open Source. You just know that, if they become successful, they're going to change. For the worst (as far Open Source is concerned).

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Ah, Open Source

      Can't you just get the last open source release, fork it, and carry on with its open source licence, pretty much ignoring whatever the company is trying to do next if you don't agree with it?

      1. AdamWill

        Re: Ah, Open Source

        Yes. The thing the OP wanted - "And, in any case, I don't think it is fair to put a blanket change on the code. You want to change license ? Fine. State that, as of YYYY/MM/DD, the last version under Open Source is the current NN.XXX.ZZZZ-WWWW (version numbers are such a hassle these days), and as of version BB.FFFF, the license changes to pay as you go (or whatever)." - is already the case, it can't really be otherwise. They can't retrospectively un-release versions they've already released under an open source license.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Ah, Open Source

        Depends.

        But if you already had the last open source release, then they can't retrospectively impose new terms on it.

        They can stop distributing the previous version, or they could distribute it under new terms. Then you would have to get a copy from someone else who received it on the old terms.

    2. unimaginative
      Devil

      Re: Ah, Open Source

      The problem happens when one company owns the copyrights - typically this means they do all the develoment, or almost all, and outside contributors must sign contrubutions overto them, or use a license that allows closing adding restrictions.

      I think the question to ask when a business says its software is open source, is whether they have a bsiness modelthat works with ooen source.

  3. Stu J

    Poor business model

    Unfortunately they massively over-priced Terraform Cloud and their Enterprise/licensable products.

    I expect if it was 1/10th of the price, they'd get way more than 10x users, and make considerably more profit.

    I don't know a single company that actually pays to use Terraform Cloud, and I've consulted for at least 20 organisations using Terraform over the past 5 years. Everyone's that's seen the demo of it seems to have the same answer:

    "Sure, it looks really nice, but I can write my own pipelines and get 80% of the functionality I want for a bit of elbow grease and no subscription/licensing costs over and above what I already pay to GitLab / GitHub / BitBucket - the extra 20% isn't worth what Hashicorp wants to charge"

    Now I guess the sweet spot might be if Hashicorp integrate and partner more tightly with GitHub / GitLab, improving those offerings, charge a few dollars a month per user on top of existing subscriptions and effectively get a revenue stream directly from them - I could see that being a move that works.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AGPL with a supplement would have helped

    With the supplement being a dual-licence giving HashiCorp a commercial right to use the code under any licence (while everyone else is stuck with AGPL terms) would have achieved the same non-compete restrictions in practice while allowing them to legitimately claim their product is actually open-source.

    They just weren’t creative enough. Sad times.

    1. klh

      Re: AGPL with a supplement would have helped

      Sadly no, because they don't care about someone using a modified version of their code on a server and not releasing the modifications.

      They don't want competition in hosting their unmodified code as a service, which goes directly against both OSS and FOSS ideals.

      It's annoying that every single of those license switches claim that "they deeply care about open source" yet they behave like a typical big software vendor of the past - you can see the code, but you can only use it in a way we like.

  5. vmatsiiako

    No more open source

    All this means is that HashiCorp is no longer an open source company. I expect many companies to move away from HashiCorp tools in the near future.

  6. firstnamebunchofnumbers

    Shareware

    Have always considered HashiCorp's stuff as shareware, in that its existence as true FOSS was completely dependent on HashiCorp's share price or financial priorities.

    Decent software (albeit dreadful QA) that solves unique problems. There's a path to monetisation but post-IPO that was always going to involve gradual retraction of licensing and community engagement.

  7. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Oddly I can see their point...

    Normally I would be amongst the mob with my pruning hook1 but I can understand, if the company wrote the code and marketed etc the resulting product, the fact they initially made the source code freely available (FOSS) shouldn't preclude that company from restricting the availability of future versions (here OSS) or even close their source (eg Solaris or QNX.)

    The difficult part is when much of the source is from external contributions. Clearly the legal side of this question would have been long settled by the company's lawyers but the ethical/moral side as could be expected is much more difficult.

    If, like me, you would only use any source code for personal study or research use and never for any commercial use these licences are infinitely better than closed source. Big commercial users should expect to "support" each other by paying each other's fair non-extortionate licencing charges ;()

    With small businesses and startups not directly competing with vendor's particular offering I would prefer that more liberal licensing were offered to encourage product innovation and diversity.

    Where the product is largely a compilation of non-encumbered open source external software peppered with the company's own modifications and original code, such a Linux distro vendors, I am more ambivalent with my hand very much on my pruning hook. Here I am thinking of Redhat a company that was very successfully selling support and its profitability can not have been too shabby or IBM would not have acquired it.

    1. Commander Vimes had a very healthy respect for agricultural implements in the hands of those skilled in their use ;)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is really being complained about?

    Bluntly:

    - as stated above, you already have full access to the OSS you are already using; that will never go away.

    - even with the licence change, you will get the next version(s) as "real" OSS, you just have to wait a bit longer than before.

    So what is the complaint, really? That you aren't getting new versions fast enough to satisfy your perceived needs? And? You do realise that you have absolutely no right, legally or morally, to complain if some OSS isn't even updated ever again? For that matter, unless you have a service contract, you have no rights to have a closed-source program update either.

    You have what you have. If you don't know how to cope with that being the last copy you'll get (and just treat any new releases as gravy) shouldn't you be asking yourself whether you are really adult enough to be playing the game?

    1. klh

      Re: What is really being complained about?

      The complaints are about the cancer that BUSL and co. are to (F)OSS software. Companies taking advantage of OSS for marketing and free work in the form of contributions, testing, triaging issues, etc.

      Don't get me wrong, it's better than closed source, but only marginally in that once the company flops it doesn't become abandonware.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What is really being complained about?

        > Companies taking advantage of OSS for marketing and free work in the form of contributions, testing, triaging issues

        Can see the problem with taking contributions and then monetising them, but from the article that doesn't seem to have been Hashicorp's SOP:

        >> We tried many times to contribute upstream fixes to Terraform providers, but HashiCorp would never accept them.

        Testing? Pretty standard behaviour (very common complaint about proprietary programs!) and includes every product that has a User forum! Ditto triaging.

        Marketing? Well, they haven't been deceptive in any way: the OSS releases are still OSS and they have given a warning about the change.

        Unless you can find a statement where they said "all versions will be OSS". In which case, pot the URL and I'll accept that point.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What is really being complained about?

        To my way of thinking, the cancer is other companies monetising OSS without paying those whose job it is to write the stuff.

        BUSL is better likened to a toxic chemo-therapy side-effect.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What is really being complained about?

          "without paying those whose job it is to write the stuff."

          Job? Meaning they were paid to write it, just not by those who monetised it? Guess getting a bonus based on licence fees would be good, but not holding my breath waiting to find such an enlightened company!

          For people who release OSS written outside their job (so, giving their time for free) getting compensation from those who monetise their work would be good - but just look at the complaints when anyone tries to do that (e.g. releasing under GPL dualled with a commercial licence)!

  9. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    THanx hashicorp for using YAML and terrible messages that give the worst messages about any minor error.

  10. morningtea

    I wonder what consequences this change will have on 3rd party contributors.

    The FAQ sadly doesn't address this, and it also doesn't explain *how* they're going to pull off the "free after 4 years" hat trick.

    I have contributed to Hashicorp OSS projects in the past, and I might still do so if I know that my contributions remain open source.

    If they'll be locked behind a commercial license immediately, that's reason enough to spend my time elsewhere.

    Now, I do understand their point of view, and I'm sympathetic with them wanting to prevent other companies from making a quick buck using their software.

    But I'd really like some clarity on what this means for people who subscribe to the give-and-take idea of OSS.

    It would be a bit easier if they'd have chosen an existing license instead of inventing their own, but only time will tell how that plays out in practice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Read the license before you give…

      Everything depends on how you licence your code when you hand it to them…. They may end up treating you as unpaid resources…

    2. lintong

      > If they'll be locked behind a commercial license immediately, that's reason enough to spend my time elsewhere.

      You potentially have your answer in the revised license attached to the terraform project in GitHub

      > All copies of the original and modified Licensed Work, and derivative works

      > of the Licensed Work, are subject to this License. This License applies

      > separately for each version of the Licensed Work and the Change Date may vary

      > for each version of the Licensed Work released by Licensor.

  11. John Savard

    They Wrote It

    At least most of it. More, because they hadn't accepted many outside contributions.

    So if their duty to stockholders means the best they can do is distribute their code under a quasi-open-source license - and one with a fairly narrow exclusion, to boot, just service bureaus directly competing with them - it's hard for me to find this to be wrong.

    It's okay to be disappointed, but furious?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They Wrote It

      "It's okay to be disappointed, but furious?"

      Never underestimate the anger of someone who has been making money off someone else's free gift.

  12. Brian Aker

    So what is up with the wording in the story "but it's not technically FOSS"?

    Don't you mean "but it's not FOSS"?

    There is nothing technical about the change they made. They own the copyright to the software and can license it in any manner that they want to.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Technically you're reading technically too much into it, technically speaking.

      Technically, see the title. Technically, yours.

      C.

      PS: The real answer is that sometimes words are used for emphasis. This is technically one of those times.

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