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Ask Slashdot: Building an Open Source Community For a Proprietary Software Product?

An anonymous reader writes: I run a company that develops scientific computing software. Our core product is a traditional proprietary application — we develop the software and deliver the “binaries” to our customers. We’re considering changing our deployment to include all of the source code and giving our customers some additional rights to explore and extend it. The codebase is HTML/JavaScript/Python/SQL, so a lot of the code is available in some form already, albeit minified or byte compiled. Because we are in a scientific domain, most of our customers use Open Source software alongside our product. We also maintain Open Source projects and directly support others. We’re strong supporters of Open Source and understand the value of having access to the source code. We also support a free (as in beer) version of the software with a smaller feature set (production and enterprise elements that individual users don’t need are removed). We’d like that version to use the same model as well to give users that don’t need the full commercial version the ability to extend the software and submit patches back to us for inclusion in future releases. Overall, we’d really like to find a model that allows our core product to work more like an Open Source product while maintaining control over the distribution rights. We’d like to foster a community around the product but still generate revenue to fund it. In our space, the “give the product away but pay for support” model has never really worked. The market is too small and, importantly, most customers understand our value proposition and have no problem with our annual license model. We’ve looked at traditional dual licensing approaches, but don’t think they’re really right fit, either. A single license that gives users access to the code but limits the ability to redistribute the code and distribute patches to the “core” is what we’d prefer. My questions for the Slashdot community: Does anyone have direct experience with models like this? Are there existing licenses that we should look at? What companies have succeeded doing this? Who has failed?


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