back to article The battle between open source and 'sort of' open source is as old as software

At the Linux Foundation Members Summit in Monterrey, California, topic number one was artificial intelligence and open source. Number two was about HashiCorp dumping Terraform's Mozilla Public License (MPL) for the Business Source License (BSL) 1.1, the resulting OpenTofu fork, and how ticked off HashiCorp CEO David McJannet was …

  1. JessicaRabbit

    If these companies would just use the more restrictive licences that they end up with from the beginning there wouldn't be such a fuss being made about it. It's the bait and switch nature of their practices that grate so much.

  2. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Business model

    Like you said: open-source is NOT a business model!

    I hate it when people use open-source to get a large following and then start complaining that they could've been billionaires but aren't because people aren't paying for their software!!! I hope companies like Redis and Elastic fail spectacularly and that AWS and Azure keep raking in money and continue developing their software.

    I see open-source as altruism. People can't expect me to work on it or add features to it or even support it. I also sell commercial software, which I obviously do support and for which people pay me handsomely. The former I do for fun, the latter to pay my bills.

    1. Someguy55

      Re: Business model

      It's not necessarily true you can't make money off open source software. What exactly are you comparing AWS to anyway? Services like AWS use APIs to provide services such as GPS tracking of various vehicles for logistics. The APIs are accessible to developers, and you only get charged for what you use. But I believe you have to have an paid account to have access to the online services.

      It's not about the code being the thing that makes money anymore. At least not at the client side anyway. It's about having the server side resources which enables cloud services to work. As for server side software, it could be open source. The idea is that if say two companies had the same software for cloud services running on their servers, one could still have an advantage over the other, despite the software being the same, free and open source software. One company could have a bigger data centre, which means more servers, to allow more users simultaneous access with better performance. Or they could have more storage space, which could be advantagous for keeping analytics data.

      Open source software on the server side is advantagous for a number of reasons. Any random programmer can see the code, therefore, someone could find a bug, performance or security issue, raise the issue with the developers who can then fix it, or if possible the random programmer could fix it themselves, such as has happened so many times with github software which has been forked off as a seperate project. Web server hosts have so much confidence in open source, that most of them had chosen Linux for their servers. No doubt most AWS servers run a Linux OS, running proprietary Amazon AWS software. The AWS software by comparison of sheer numbers, could have more issues than the Linux OS. It could have more issues than a like for like equivalent open source software.

  3. t245t Silver badge

    HashiCorp Contributor License Agreement

    “Agreeing to a CLA explicitly states that .. HashiCorp has permission to use your contribution in our commercial products.”

    Additional Use Grant: “You may make production use of the Licensed Work, provided Your use does not include offering the Licensed Work to third parties”

    OpenTF Announces Fork of Terraform

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Most of these companies only exist because of OpenSource

    Only a fool buys into a closed ecosystem - this is a world where prices can double overnight.

    Sure they can complain they aren't making millions, but "software vendor" isn't a business any more. A company does something that requires computer software, maybe an advertising company or a phone manufacturer, then has a department that writes the software and puts it on GitHub.

    The days where you can sell software are almost over. The closest will be companies that are paid to add features to software.

    1. abetancort

      Re: Most of these companies only exist because of OpenSource

      Everything run on software and you are ether paying it bundled or unbundled with any hardware. Software companies won’t stop making big bucks ever.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Most of these companies only exist because of OpenSource

      The days where you can sell software are almost over.

      Certain software occupies a very de facto place in the market. The move to subscription for these is the only thing that’s changing. People are still handing over cash for it,

      Subscription pushed me to drop Photoshop for Affinity though.

      1. Aitor 1

        Re: Most of these companies only exist because of OpenSource

        I would pay per use for software.

        For example. Photoshop.

        If a license is say £20 a month, then a reasonable cost should be pennies per hour. But no, they just want rent.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bible misquote

    I think it actually says "the love of money is the root of all *kinds* of evil"

    AC because I can't be bothered to get into a debate about translations.

    1. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Bible misquote

      Literally "the love of money is a root of all evils".

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Bible misquote

        Except that Hebrew is an evocative language, not a descriptive one. And this Jew was talking to other Jews in Israel. The Greek translation of the conversation was almost certainly done by a Jew as well, so while the term "kol raot" was almost certainly used, and translated into whatever Greek is for "all evils", NO ONE would have taken it to mean "each and every evil", which is what "all evils" means to us. Most translations do something like "all kinds of evils" or even "many kinds of evils", which is how the phrase would have been taken at the time.

        "He who translates, lies."

        1. Vincent Ballard

          Re: Bible misquote

          No, this wasn't a Jew talking to other Jews in Israel. The quote's from 1 Timothy: it's a Greek-speaking Jew writing to a Greek-speaking Jew in Greek.

          Note that that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be interpreted as "all kinds of evil" (where in colloquial English "all kinds" doesn't mean every kind). My post was complementing AC's in that regard, not contradicting it: if I'd spelt it out in detail the error in AC's post is putting the definite article before "root".

          1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: Bible misquote

            You got me on the address. Mea culpa.

            But I'm standing by the interpretation. Paul's thoughts are Jewish. He translated into Greek as necessary, but he continued to speak as a Jew.

  6. Roland6 Silver badge

    Cloud providers and open source is the problem…

    From my, albeit limited, reading, the issue is cloud vendors who have made great use of open source in their cloud platforms and because of the nature of the product they sell have been able to avoid the contribution back to the open source project, regardless of the license used by the relevant project.

    With an industry rapidly becoming one that only delivers through “the cloud”, in alll its forms - from platform (eg. AWS, Azure etc) through to applications (eg. Salesforce), the market for open source is also changing, if anything I suspect cloud is slowly killing open source.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cloud providers and open source is the problem…

      Since the beginning of Open Source, it was always possible to use an Open Source software on the cheapest hardware, or the cehapest hosting provider, without buying anything from the people editing the software. And this situation did not prevent Open Source software people to sell services around the software they made and be sustainable.

      If cloud provider are killing Open Source, so it would be already killed by hardware vendors an Linux distributions. But in fact, it wasn't.

      For all the companies who want to kill Open Source, it's not a question of sustainability, because it's still possible to be sustainable: It's a question of making the software a private capital again and making max profits with rents. And gaining monopoles as a bonus. And for that, they making a Palpatine move: "Look, a great danger. Quick, let destroy our ethical values for security". Cloud platforms are just a diversion.

    2. Crypto Monad Silver badge

      Re: Cloud providers and open source is the problem…

      > From my, albeit limited, reading, the issue is cloud vendors who have made great use of open source in their cloud platforms and because of the nature of the product they sell have been able to avoid the contribution back to the open source project

      I don't think Elasticorp wanted AWS to contribute their improvements to the software (which maybe they already did). They wanted AWS to pay money.

      Aside: for me, Open Source is about three things:

      1. Not having to worry about licensing or infringment risks, activation keys, different levels of feature sets, invoicing, dealing with salespeople etc.

      2. Having the ability to answer my own questions and fix my own problems by working directly with the source code

      3. Being able to engage with like-minded people to improve each other's understanding, and the software itself, cooperatively

  7. timrichardson

    We know open source can work really well, that is, it can reach an economically sustaining level, such as linux the kernel. A characteristic is that no one entity controls the source de facto, and that competitors collaborate (such as when a maintainer working for Intel processes a pull request from AMD as a matter of course). Those firms use linux as a brick in the wall of their business. To do what they do, there must be an OS, and it turns out to be much cheaper to contribute to Linux than to build one from scratch, and linux has such momentum that even if you did have your own OS, customers are going to demand that it works with Linux.

    It doesn't always work. It's hard to see how it makes sense for a business which exists to develop a software product can make money by giving it away for free. If you try to monetise it by hosting servers, then you are a competing with AWS. You could sell consulting services, but that doesn't scale so it won't get much VC funding.And yet, postgresql and mariadb are open source, and then there is sqlite, which is simply public domain. It might be that ultimately the biggest incompatibility with open source is not the software but the funding model. How can open source deliver the high returns the VC Investors demand? But not just any software can offer these big returns. Is any database product innovative enough to have such barriers to entry that millions of users feel they have to pay for it?

    Terraform may be different, it seems a more complex area where it has a more distinct offer. But on the other hand, the large cloud providers who make good money by hosting kubernetes may decide that something like terraform is worth investing in to win the hosting business, in the same way they all invest in Linux or Python. It looks like open source works well when it plays an enabling role for some added value where there is a barrier to entry, but is not the added value itself. One of the most obvious examples is hardware: Linux grew because it was a great way of selling servers. There is more open hardware than ever before: android, drones, Raspberry PI, soon there will be Risc V everywhere, automobile maybe; I'd say just on that basis open source looks fine.

    An interesting case study could be the firewall pfsense. This is router/firewall used by a hardware firm to help sell devices. That sounds like a classic open source story. There are even easy services you can sell on top, such as subscriptions to the latest packet filtering rules, or 24x7 service. They don't have VC funding, as far as I know. But Netgate has told everyone that the community version is close to end of life. When they announced that, they offered small users a free licence to the new proprietary version, and a year or so later, now you have to pay for it. It's been a bad experience. Maybe the problem is that router hardware is so commoditised they can't make margin on it (more and more firewalls run on virtualised hardware) ,so they are pivoting to be a software firm now. Developers have to be paid,this is just people trying to work out how to be financially sustainable.

    1. abend0c4 Silver badge

      An economically sustaining level, such as linux the kernel.

      The problem here is that it really isn't economically sustaining. The bits of it that are important to the commercial market are, but there's a long tail of more arcane features that struggle to find maintainers.

      And there are plenty of lesser projects that are reasonably popular but struggle to find maintainers at all.

      And on the other side of the equation, a lot of software is quite ephemeral - it's the great way forward one month and forgotten the next. It can be quite hard to build a business around individual components.

      We're now at the Industrial Revolution state of software deployment, but we're still very much in the artisan stage of software development. That will change and no doubt software developers will be casting their clogs into the bots that displace them but for every "sustainable" project there are literally thousands more that aren't and some economic and technical shift will have to occur to align that with the expectations of end users. I don't think anyone yet has a clue what that shift will be, but I think there is growing concern about the status quo.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An economically sustaining level, such as linux the kernel.

        > The problem here is that it really isn't economically sustaining. The bits of it that are important to the commercial market are, but there's a long tail of more arcane features that struggle to find maintainers.

        In reality, Open Source is economically sustainable. You have a lot of business models that you can apply, and a lot of people apply them everyday with success. The problems you will face have nothing to do with Open Source.

        Before Open Source was so popular, during a time where it was proprietary software by default, there was proprietary softwares that was economically successful and others that wasn't. A there was also hobby projects, who don't event try and who was ephemeral. That because, when you want to make money from software, you will face a lot of problems. The first one is simple: It's not because you sell something that someone will buy it. These problems are outside of the scope of a software licence or a way to develop a software. Whatever the change on software, you will get the same result as today. That because, to fix these problems, you need to treat them at the root. Root who are outside of software.

        And when people criticize Open Source, they tend to ignore these problems, and attribute all the situation to Open Source. They also tend to only look at project who have difficulties and project who are only for hobby. And when they compare to proprietary software, they only see Adobe or Microsoft, but don't about all the little proprietary softwares who fail to economically success or don't even try.

        Ho, and during the proprietary age, the entry gate was way higher than with Open Source, so having success with proprietary was less accessible than now.

  8. The Central Scrutinizer

    "The days where you can sell software are almost over."

    Oh really? Tell that to Adobe et al.

    1. alisonken1

      Adobe has switched from selling software to selling subscriptions. You can download the software, but good luck trying to run it without an Adobe account.

      At least with the Adobe software we use at work.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        A subscription is just a way of using a network connection as a dongle. You're still selling software.

        1. Aitor 1

          Selling software

          Monthly fees and "online dongles" is not selling software, but services.

          It is terrible for many clients, as it also includes auto rolling of new versions. Change for change sake isn't good.

      2. The Central Scrutinizer

        They are still selling the software, just under a different model where you constantly fork over cash.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          your confusing selling and renting.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            And you're confusing both with licensing for use, which is what is actually happening.

            Once you sell something you relinquish your rights to it. But that would allow the buyer to (for example) sell pirate copies, which is why all commercial software is licensed and comes with terms of use. Break those terms and the permission to use the software is withdrawn.

            We used to sell our software with a one-off price - customers would pay us once, use forever. Now we get them to pay us once a year. The terms of use, however, are unchanged.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              call it what you want it's still renting.

              1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

                No, it's not renting. Renting means exclusive use - if I rent a flat or a car or billboard-space or a DVD, no one else can use it at the same time. That's renting.

                For non-exclusive use the word is licensing. That's why it's the GPL not the GPrentalagreement. It's why you sign a license agreement for space in a shared office, not a rental agreement.

                So we've now covered selling, renting and licensing. If you need any other words defined just ask, I'm here all week.

  9. cdegroot

    Affero, anyone?

    I’m kidding, of course. The Affero GOL just creates a level playing field but that doesn’t take in the levels of cash needed to pay back the VCs. Because that is really what’s at hand - market position gets bought with venture funding and, like the deal with the devil, they’ll come knocking at your door.

    I don’t think any of the self-funded, organically grown open source businesses have the same issue, generally. They’re happy to exist on a level playing field and compete with engineers, not lawyers.

  10. Steve Channell


    The open-source model used to be like "try before you buy", but the "buy" consisted of consulting, maintenance, training, support, documentation - you could just use it, but if your business depended on it, it was better to have a commercial contract. The market changed when hundreds of thousands of clients dwindled down to a few large service-providers who decided to in-source the services that companies like Hashicorp depended on to fund their development.

    The new business license is primarily about stopping cloud vendors profiting from work without funding its development. If a cloud provider make 30% gross profit, we shouldn't care that part of that profit goes to the developers that made part of it possible. There is a risk that smaller business users (like IBM, Exxon etc) might be asked to switch to a commercial contract, but they're likely to do that anyway for insurance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Evolution

      The situation didn't change.

      Since the beginning of Open Source, all users can go to someone else that the original editor. And choose the cheapest one. That called competition. The only one who contract the original editor of the software are the ones who want to. And that didn't stop the original editor to sell services and have money. Cloud providers didn't change the situation: The users who want to contract with the original editor still can do it, this editor can still make money and be sustainable.

      The cloud providers didn't profiting from the work: The software is already available for free to anyone and it is immaterial (Copying it do not reduce its value). So the values the cloud providers get come from their own work, not the software. And there is a lot of business models to fund the software development and keep it really Open Source. Paying a right to use is not necessary and will give to the software owner too much power to abuse from.

      The cloud providers are only a diversion. The goal is to ask to come back in the previous system, where a software where a private capital to profit from with a rent. But instead of assuming doing proprietary software and having to compete against Open Source model, they ask to destroy Open Source by giving it the definition of a form of proprietary software.

  11. pitrh

    A bit of history and some advice on productive interactions with open source communities

    It is worth mentioning that the Internet would not be around in anything like its present form without rather a lot of open source.

    As in "where did the TCP/IP reference implementation come from?

    I recently did a writeup and presentation on "Open Source in Enterprise Environments", with some advice about how to productively interact with open source communities for a talk that was originally intended for colleagues at $DAYJOB but it has also worked reasonably well as a user group talk.

    The full text (which I adlib on when presenting) can be found as or if you would like to be tracked by Big G in return for incrementally nicer formatting,

    Comments welcome, of course.

  12. danielfgom

    Principles of Free Software more relevant than ever

    Steve I'm one of those who agrees 100% with Stallman and feel that the Free Software principles are more relevant now, than ever. Computing is getting increasingly user hostile, just look at Apple's lock in (prison) and how once they've trapped the user they milk them like a cow. Windows is going that way too, and Google too with it's web tracking stuff.

    What irritated me is that HashiCorp was angry because of the support OpenTofu received. Well, clearly HashiCorp have never read nor subscribed to the Free Software manifest, because if they had they would know that one of the fundamental principles is the user being able to modify the code, as well as redistribute it, modified OR NOT.

    That's exactly what Red Hat have done. They've ignored this user right and labeled anyone who redistributes the code as free loaders. They are in essence no longer Free Software.

    It's because of things like this that Stallman goes to great lengths to differentiate between Free Software and Open Source software. They are two different things.

    Because of what Red Hat has done I've been calling the Community to stop using Fedora all together in protest. Let's be honest, Fedora is not Community based. They are Red Hat's beta testing and development team and the users are the beta testers. It's 100% corporate, from the staff all being Red Hat employees to Red Hat financing it.

    I call on all the Free Software Community/Linux Community to only use 100% community distros like Debian, Arch, Slackware, Gentoo etc.

    I'm showing my support by using LMDE - Debian with the latest Cinnamon dekstop, and everything 100% community.

  13. Someguy55

    The other thing about open source software, is if copyright laws were enforced correctly, like how they are for movie piracy, it could be much more commercial. If were comparing like for like, open source software should have protection like books or Ebooks, but I didnt like that example because illegal downloading of books - book piracy isn't enforced against like say movie piracy. No FBI warnings in your Kindle edition of Harry Potter.

    But because open source software code is text it should be considered like a book. And if you did want to release it commercially, so people can download the code for their own use, you would have to stop people sharing it. GPL software code is resdistributable according to the license, so you would have to have a license that doesn't allow absolutely any redistribution. But then that defeats the purpse of open source software right? Because it stops people sharing their own improvements and fixes? Well the easy workaround would be the code can't be shared with anyone who doesn't own a license for the code. Anyone who does you can share your improvements with, i.e. other legitimate users who have purchased the software.

    But is it really breaking copyright anyway if you say, show part of the code in a forum to explain what is wrong with it? You're only showing part of the program not all of it. If you quote a sentance from a book to use as a reference is that breaking copyright? And if you post your own modifications to the program, you might only need to show a few parts of the copyrighted code to show how you modify it, if you need to show any at all. In order to modify software for improvement, you might just need to mention which lines of a file original code needs to be added to, which wouldn't break copyright of code at all. Assuming the code is original and doesn't contain anything like what is already in the program. Fanfiction of various books had been around forever. Most of it isn't that good, but it does build something original on top of someone elses work, which is a good comparison here.

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