Open Source Software: Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice, Fool Me Once Again

April 1, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Open source is shoved in my face each and every day. I nod and say, “Sure” or “Sounds on point”. But in the back of my mind, I ask myself, “Am I the only one who sees open source as a way to demonstrate certain skills, a Hail, Mary, in a dicey job market, or a bit of MBA fancy dancing. I am not alone. Navigate to “Software Vendors Dump Open Source, Go for Cash Grab.” The write up does a reasonable job of explaining the open source “playbook.”

The write up asserts:

A company will make its program using open source, make millions from it, and then — and only then — switch licenses, leaving their contributors, customers, and partners in the lurch as they try to grab billions.

Yep, billions with a “B”. I think that the goal may be big numbers, but some open source outfits chug along ingesting venture funding and surfing on assorted methods of raising cash and never really get into “B” territory. I don’t want to name names because as a dinobaby, the only thing I dislike more than doctors is a legal eagle. Want proper nouns? Sorry, not in this blog post.


Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Where are you in the open source game?

The write up focuses on Redis, which is a database that strikes me as quite similar to the now-forgotten Pinpoint approach or the clever Inktomi method to speed up certain retrieval functions. Well, Redis, unlike Pinpoint or Inktomi is into the “B” numbers. Two billion to be semi-exact in this era of specious valuations.

The write up says that Redis changed its license terms. This is nothing new. 23andMe made headlines with some term modifications as the company slowly settled to earth and landed in a genetically rich river bank in Silicon Valley.

The article quotes Redis Big Dogs as saying:

“Beginning today, all future versions of Redis will be released with source-available licenses. Starting with Redis 7.4, Redis will be dual-licensed under the Redis Source Available License (RSALv2) and Server Side Public License (SSPLv1). Consequently, Redis will no longer be distributed under the three-clause Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD).”

I think this means, “Pay up.”

The author of the essay (Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols) identifies three reasons for the bait-and-switch play. I think there is just one — money.

The big question is, “What’s going to happen now?”

The essay does not provide an answer. Let me fill the void:

  1. Open source will chug along until there is a break out program. Then whoever has the rights to the open source (that is, the one or handful of people who created it) will look for ways to make money. The software is free, but modules to make it useful cost money.
  2. Open source will rot from within because “open” makes it possible for bad actors to poison widely used libraries. Once a big outfit suffers big losses, it will be hasta la vista open source and “Hello, Microsoft” or whoever the accountants and lawyers running the company believe care about their software.
  3. Open source becomes quasi-commercial. Options range from Microsoft charging for GitHub access to an open source repository becoming a membership operation like a digital Mar-A-Lago. The “hosting” service becomes the equivalent of a golf course, and the people who use the facilities paying fees which can vary widely and without any logic whatsoever.

Which of these three predictions will come true? Answer: The one that affords the breakout open source stakeholders to generate the maximum amount of money.

Stephen E Arnold, April 1, 2024


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