Subject: Re: Open Source funding?
From: Brian Behlendorf <brian@collab.net>
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2005 15:34:18 -0800 (PST)

On Thu, 17 Feb 2005, Lajos wrote:
> What interests me most are the #5 & #6 models. Neither of these are VC 
> funded, because they have no profit motives. However, these are often the 
> models in which some of the best open source software is developed. Hence I'm 
> interested in exploring the question of the long-term viability of these 
> projects. So far, Apache does very well because copmanies using open source 
> software are willing to have employees spend paid time working on that 
> software. How long will this last? What are the benefits realized by these 
> companies who contribute employee time? Will these benefits continue long 
> term? Perhaps Brian can help me out here ...

You're possibly neglecting the fact that IP created by models #5 or #6 are 
usable by companies set up by all the other models, modulo licensing 
concerns.  Further, use of Apache software is not a one-way street; 
inevitably, use leads to improvement, and we can make a pragmatic case 
that most improvements fed back to the Apache project result in greater 
value for the contributor.  Since Apache's license is not a copyleft 
license in any way (even MPL and CDDL are copyleft when it comes to 
changes made to the software itself), is reliably easy to understand 
(conservative and liberal reads of the Apache license are more likely to 
be congruent than liberal and conservative reads of more complex 
licenses), most concerns that a contributor might have can be addressed. 
It's easy to make the case to the un-saavy management types that their 
"investment" of IP into Apache is likely to be a good one.

I believe our neutrality, both real and as perceived by the market, is key 
to being able to marshall the greatest amount of investment to bear on 
specific projects.  Without coming down too hard on JBoss, we are unlikely 
to see the existing proprietary J2EE server vendors abandon their 
applications and co-develop with JBoss, because of the perception that one 
commercial entity (Jboss Inc.) benefits most from such investment, whereas 
all commercial entities stand to benefit equally from an investment in 
Geronimo.

> With the #6 projects, however, I frankly wonder how long they can last. The 
> accounting project I referenced in my original post is in this group. A 
> cyncial predication would be that this project will eventually be muscled out 
> by a VC-backed competitor along the #1/#2 model. This I don't like. I want to 
> see projects of the #5/#6 models survive. No, they are not the vaunted 
> "professional open source" but they are responsible for some darn good 
> software. In my example project, the software and founders have really done 
> some excellent work - they just don't have the muscle to bring the project to 
> its completion.

I would like to see the phrase "professional open source" die a fast, 
ignomious death.  We're all professionals in this list and in this 
industry, and most contributions to open source projects come from 
developers paid to create their contributions [Lakhami/BCG survey].

The only danger to the Apache "model" is that the volunteer mindset works 
very well for writing code, but poor for other processes upon which a 
successful and neutral foundation must perform: legal assistance, PR, 
technical infrastructure, "marketing" in the form of encouraging and 
directing new volunteers, etc.  Apache members and volunteers do fantastic 
part-time jobs at all of these things, but there's still issues going 
unresolved that could be addressed by someone able to work full-time on 
some of these issues.  So far we have not made the leap to having paid 
staff, which would require a similar leap in focus on fundraising.  Other 
organizations, like Mozilla, made that leap early in order to preserve the 
momentum and staff from when it was hosted by Netscape/AOL; but building a 
sustainable cash flow to fund a staff isn't always easy.  So far with 
Mozilla it's been corporate grants and brand licensing (mozillastore, 
etc) and a few donations.

Because both Mozilla and Apache are 501c3's, within 5 years of 
incorporation each must show that 33.3% of our donations come from 
individuals or other non-profits, where each contribution in that category 
is no greater than 2% of our total income.  That'll be an interesting 
forcing function for both organizations.

But at the end of the day, Mozilla and Apache are both "business models" 
worth worrying about to the same degree as the IETF and IEEE have 
"business models".  As non-profits they need revenue to pay expenses and 
grow, but producing shareholder return is not their charter.  By having a 
broad base of contributors, they're not subject to the whim of even the 
largest contributor waking up one morning and deciding that their open 
source investments can't be justified to shareholders.  And because our 
governance model comes from individual developers no matter their 
affiliation, SME's and independent developers, yes even the 
non-"professional"s, can play a strong role in development.  In fact the 
non-pros typically produce some of the most experimental and ambitious 
innovations in open source projects, precisely because they're not on a 
deadline and don't have someone else's time and money to lose if the idea 
doesn't bear fruit.

 	Brian