Monty Widenius wrote about the problems with the open sourcemodel, or more specifically the problems he is experiencing with his open source project MariaDB. In a nutshell, it lacks two things: (1) developers committing code; (2) users paying. He then focuses primarily on #2, lack of paying customers.
I believe that Monty’s concerns are the result of a number of factors:
- Maturity (coolness factor): When a product is
new and cool, developers want to work on it and customers get in the spirit and
want to pay for it to continue to evolve. But once it becomes mature…eh not so
- Maturity (downstream revenues): When a product is new and cutting-edge, “experts” make a ton of money. Look at Hadoop experts now. But as it becomes mainstream, the experts are making far less and feel less charitable toward their respective open source project.
- Maturity (market adoption): When you are one of the few early adopters of an open source project you may be more charitable toward the company in an effort to see it survive. Once it gains universal appeal, you figure that the rest of the people will pay so you don’t need to…in other words, “they are a success now, no need to continue funding them.”
- Macro Economy: If the macro economy is tight, as it is now, and companies are looking for where to cut, it is easier to cut funding to an “optional donation” than to cut one more individual. This is similar to the “downstream revenues” issue above but at the company level.
Open source projects follow a cycle, just like most everything in life. Commercial products achieve peak revenues with maturity and broad adoption. I believe that open source projects are the inverse, with maturity comes a decline in revenues. Ironically, it could well be that success is dangerous to a company's health.
Monty has some interesting ideas on separating "free" from open source...at least to some degree.