CodePlex Guru Weighs in on Open Core Debate

CodePlex CTO offers thoughts on what's important in Free v. Open debate


Stephen Walli, CTO of the CodePlex Foundation, has published not one but two excellent blogs on the Open Core debate. Even more interestingly, he used some of my thoughts as a springboard for his posts.

Walli expands on the notion I tossed out that "open" and "free" are really two pieces of the same puzzle. While each has their own perspectives on what they think is the right thing, both communities ultimately have the same goal.

Walli, however, isn't buying it:

"I'm still not happy with that debate because I don't think it addresses the underlying problem of value systems and terminology. Having a debate about software freedom versus open source software (and then debating who is more free or more open) suffers the same problems and tensions as arguing that free speech is better than free markets or that democracy is more important than capitalism. They are different ideas. The ideas themselves are each extremely important in their own domains of debate (politics and commerce). The ideas can be synergistic. I would happily debate if one is a necessary foundation of the other, or whether one particularly enables the other, but I think debating whether one is somehow better than the other or more important than the other is an empty debate. All you do at that point is identify yourself to the other participants by the value system in which you choose to expend your own time and skills. (I made my choice a long time ago and stepped into the commercial sphere. It doesn't mean that I don't care about politics and democracy and don't vote my conscience in elections, but rather that I believe I can best contribute in a commercial sphere.)"

Free and open, he believes, are not the same thing, but the whole debate is silly anyway, so why are we bothering?

The problem of dealing with the disparities between free and open isn't just an Oxford debate. How companies (with strictly commercial motivations) work with communities (with motivations that can vary from creativity to commercial and everything in-between).

It's that interface Walli focuses on in his second missive:

"I believe part of the confusion is between the FOSS projects with their attendant communities, and products in the market that incorporate the project. One doesn't know when the governance discussion stops and the market discussion begins. Community development and governance are interesting edges around which to have the discussion."

Walli goes on to make a good point: it ultimately doesn't matter if a company chooses to go open core. It's how the company handles its relations with the community. If a company does things above board, then it honors open source and free ideals far more than what license or business model it chooses.

I recommend you read Walli's works for yourself, because it's a keen insight on how free, open source, and open core can fit together.

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