A Significant Difference Between Open Source and Commercial Software


A recent event has triggered a lot of interest in the debate about the good and the bad parts of Open Source. Oracle’s attack on Open Source. For large corporations who aren’t Red Hat, taking a stand on the topic is far from easy. Oracle used to sell only commercial software, but has since acquired a lot of open-sourcey companies, such as Sleepycat Software (BerkeleyDB) or Sun Microsystems (Java, MySQL). Phrasing a long-term strategy upon this legacy isn’t easy.

At the same time, Oracle is extremely successful, having surpassed IBM’s revenue, making Oracle the second largest software company in the world. The continuing popularity of its flagships Java and the Oracle database is promising, also for middleware vendors providing products such as jOOQ, for their flagships.

At Data Geekery, Open Source is also very important, just as commercial licensing has become, since recently. The change towards dual-licensing has been received rather positively on the jOOQ user group, even if it led to open questions about the continued Open Source strategy. But what’s the real difference between Open Source and commercial software? At Adobe, Dr. Roy Fielding is often cited saying that there is essentially no difference between Open Source and commercial software, and he’s quite an authority for both worlds. Both are absolutely viable business models with their pros and cons respectively (unfortunately, I cannot back this up with an actual citation).

One significant difference, however, is that low-quality open source software can heavily outlive low-quality commercial software, as it just never really dies, as no one is “losing money” on low OSS “sales”. I’ve recently blogged about how to recognise such low-quality Open Source software.

Open Source is foremost a business and marketing strategy, just as much as it is a mission. This business strategy can be a good or a bad choice for any software vendor.

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2 responses to “A Significant Difference Between Open Source and Commercial Software”

  1. David Konerding says :

    “At the same time, Oracle is extremely successful, having surpassed IBM’s revenue, making Oracle the second largest software company in the world”. This is demonstrably untrue; both Apple and Google are larger software companies (of course, all four companies sell hardware in addition to delivering software, and Google makes most of its money from Ads, while Apple makes most of its money from Hardware, while Oracle and IBM are a mix).

    • lukaseder says :

      Heh, yes. I didn’t actually check those claims. After all, they’re Oracle’s own claims. In some subcategory of the Forbes 500 list, they might actually be true (e.g. the one about selling software licenses). Interestingly, Oracle’s memo doesn’t indicate who’s #1, either.

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