Between my trip to OSBC and recent questions from a reporter, I have been spending some time thinking about how commercial interests impact open source software. Over the past few years, commercial interests have had an increasing amount of influence on open source projects. Ten years ago, it seemed like most open source projects were created by people working in their spare time without any compensation and limited resources for the project. Now, many open source developers are sponsored by companies or other organizations who provide them with a regular paycheck giving them more time to contribute to open source projects. Commercial companies also provide support in the form of servers, hosting, software, and other resources to help open source projects succeed. For example, Jive Software is the sponsor for the Ignite Realtime project where Openfire (GPL), Spark (LGPL), and other related open source projects are hosted and managed. We hire developers from the community, and we have people like Gaston Dombiak aka Gato (Openfire project lead) and Derek DeMoro (Spark project lead) on staff at Jive Software. In Gato's case, he was a contributor to Ignite Realtime projects long before he became an employee of Jive Software. We also do what we can to support collaboration within open source and other software developer teams (i.e. software user groups) by providing them with <span class="jive-link-external">[complimentary licenses|http://www.jivesoftware.com/products/forums/resources/opensource.jsp] of Clearspace X or Jive Forums.

 

There is sometimes a fine line between providing help to open source projects and exerting unwanted influence. For a commercial open source vendor to be successful, a careful balance between commercial open source interests and community interests must be preserved. This can only be accomplished when both sides provide input and listen to the other when making decisions about the direction of the project. Jive Software uses the Ignite Realtime forums, weekly chat sessions, community voting on the top issues, and other collaborative methods to make sure that our relationship with the Ignite Realtime community continues to be beneficial for both.

 

I expect to see more companies with mixed business models offering some products that are open source while also offering products under more traditional licenses, similar to the Jive Software model. Even on products licensed under traditional licenses, Jive Software strives to maintain openness and transparency by providing the source code along with the product giving customers the ability to make additional modifications, customization, and inspection of the source code. For pure open source companies, it can be difficult to maintain a revenue stream large enough to sustain the business through support and services revenues. Companies with mixed business models can benefit from having licensing revenue on some products in addition to support and services revenue making the road to profitability a bit easier.