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To Open Or Not To Open

by guillaume (Pilgrim)
on Aug 22, 2001 at 19:29 UTC ( #106989=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I want to ask the advice of the monks of this monestary, since I expect some of you probably have been in a similar situation before.

First some background. I'm starting a small business with a friend of mine. We will mainly concentrate on offering web design services, web applications and a bit of e-commerce.

I have developped in Perl (ok, reinventing the wheel a bit, but...) a system that allow a website owner to update the content of his site through html forms. He can manipulate text, structure and cascading style sheets with a nice, simple enough interface. We bundle the software with web sites we design so our clients can do their own updates.

The questions I was pondering are the following:

Should I open source my application? I got a lot from the open source movement, and would like to give something back. But I need to still be able to "sell" my application to my clients. Another thing is that maybe no one will be interested in my software. In that case, why bother? Also there is the licensing issue. Can a open source license protect me more legally? Which license would better suits my needs? Finally, if I decide to open source my application, what steps should I take to do so?

Last but not least, would _not_ open sourcing my application make me Evil(tm)?

Thanks in advance for all your opinions, they will be considered.


Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by Mungbeans (Pilgrim) on Aug 22, 2001 at 20:16 UTC
    The license is always up to the author. Not open sourcing something doesn't make you evil unless you scarfed up some GPL'd stuff in which case I'd start running. NOW.

    Some questions to ask youself:

    • Is the software your bread and butter or are the services you provide the thing that really make you the money?
    • How easy is it for someone else to start selling services using this software?
    • Are there components that you could open source, that wouldn't give away your core business?
    • Is there anything else that you could do for the open source movement that is unrelated to this?
    • Are your clients going to suffer through not being able to modify the software if you go out of business (probably unlikely unless you're encrypting the scripts somehow) ?
    • Are your clients technical enough to get any benefit out of this?

    My gut feeling is that as your just starting off, I'd tread very carefully for now. Later on when you're well established and know when your money is going to be coming from, and you're comfortable with opening it up, then do so.

    As far as licensing issues go, IANAL and don't know what country you're based in so I'd suggest you do some searches for legal disclaimers. I don't think that open source licenses are any more protective other than that many have had very careful legal scrutiny.

    My 2p.

    "The future will be better tomorrow." ... from the collected wisdom of George W Bush.

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by petesmiley (Friar) on Aug 22, 2001 at 20:32 UTC
    The evil part seems to be entirely a religious issue ;) It's not evil in my eyes. Keeping it closed is entirely up to you. I pondered the same concepts myself, started writing business plan. One thought was to do what some software companies do. Keep the newest version closed source and release the older version. In the case of your application though, I think it would benefit a lot from being open sourced. Having other people upgrade your software is cool.

    As for making your money, are you a hosting service?? I'm not sure I understand what you do. Do you offer web development services or sell software? Sorry for the confusion, I think maybe it would help you to try and be concise about what you do for your clients :) Or is this tool just a bonus prize your clients get for working with you.

    My company has a rather large client that had a content control system written for them. They then contracted a whole bunch of over qualified consultants from my company to sit there and click buttons and pull down tabs for them for their web site. Instead of letting the consultants write the pages by hand (which would of produced higher quality results).

    So you see, even if you give them the software they might want to do something silly like contract you to use it for them.

    You might want to also look at ActiveState's business model. Businesses don't like to use open source if they cannot get a contract with someone to maintain it in the event of a failure. So support contracts are pretty neat too.

    Oh well, not sure if all of this rambling will help you. I hope you get the advice you are looking for.

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by pmas (Hermit) on Aug 22, 2001 at 21:11 UTC
    I know it is too late with this kind of advice, after you developed your system, but still...:-)

    I recently found nice tool WIKI for collaborative web page development, allowing for a group of people edit web-pages via browser, with page locking, version control, levels of user access, automatic creating links etc. And it IS open and free. I was impressed.

    There are multiple clones, I liked one available in Perl: TWiki

    I do not know functionality of your system, how much more features do you have. Still, I IMHO it might be worth to look into TWiki and learn...

    To answer your question:
    You do not have to open source of your system, if you expect to make living from selling source code. But, as a small firm, you may want to live by selling your services only, and you might be more credible to your customers if you can say you do not want to lock them into your system, then can improve it if they want, but do not have to - your company can do it.

    Given recent economic situation: It will not be easy, but you are in full control now! Good luck!

    To make errors is human. But to make million errors per second, you need a computer.

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by mr.dunstan (Monk) on Aug 22, 2001 at 21:28 UTC
    If you are the owner of a small business and you are serious about staying in business, you should get a firm grasp on your assets - ie. your intellectual property - unless you are just overflowing with work, or already rich, and really know that ownership of this app it won't be an issue.

    While open-sourcing software can lead to good things, are these the good things that you'll need in the beginning years of your business? I recommend whatever you do, make sure you don't give away the farm.

    Meanwhile, I also recommend the scariest lawyers you can afford and get them to look into software licensing law and determine exactly what your rights are regarding ownership, distribution and protection of your intellectual property. Get them to (or draft with them) a licensing agreement you have at the ready, so whenever you take on new business you know exactly what you're offering and your client knows exactly what they're paying for.

    Know what your rights and privileges are - otherwise you may spend countless hours down the road fighting pointless battles and counting your grey hairs instead of producing new work, forging new business relationships, and best of all - making money! It's not evil, it's life. Business is evil.

    Not that this happened to me ... :)

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by little (Curate) on Aug 22, 2001 at 23:24 UTC

    I never had to take a decision as you do. When I was working as a freelancer I wrote some code, but interestingly the company I did for is not selling the sole solution but ather a full service, so they owe the code, the client never sees it and wehen the client resigns from the service and support contract, ne will have nothing left. Actually, that gave me bad taste in my mouth.

    But as others said before, regarding licenses consult a lawyer.

    Regarding of what you could give back top the community, I'd think it would be rather usefull to get one or the other module you wrote for your app. It could be that there is one such thing whrer you'd say, that it would be no risk to your own business to publish that module to CPAN. But beware that the time you spend for supporting such a module and so on will take time, which you might need or at least better should invest into your business.

    So, to make my point on it: DON'T do anything except your business now. It will take all your time and you'll have enough time later to give back something to the community.

    Ok, I should have said that you help the community a lot as well by donating to from your business profits. {grin}

    Have a nice day
    All decision is left to your taste
Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by mattr (Curate) on Aug 23, 2001 at 10:34 UTC
    Open sourcing (making free) your content management system has nothing to do with your ability to sell it. It may even help. Your clients could still hire you to extend it. It is not a matter of being evil or legally protected.

    Of course I'm curious about your system too, but you have to make sure it won't damage your income. I think it would help really, since you could get more jobs, and requests for customization, which you might not get otherwise. You might also get help with localizing it or adding functionality. This could happen more easily if it is made free.

    As for legal questions with your clients, you might want to put in your contracts that it is a site liscense, they can't redistribute, and that you are not responsible if they modify the system. That way you get feedback and work, and less hassle.

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by fmogavero (Monk) on Aug 23, 2001 at 16:46 UTC
    Good Question!

    I would assume that you are in business to make money. Since you are in business, how do you make your money? What can you do to insure that the money keeps flowing? Is it residual income or leveraged income?

    There are plenty of people who charge money to clients and use scripts from Matt's Script Archive or javascripts from Does that make them evil? Define Evil.

    Business is for making money. What do you need to do to make money with this? If you need to make it a "trade secret" then so be it.

    As far as being evil goes, I think that you would be evil if you disassembled other people's software and then reinvented it to call it your own. But then again, the very people who do this are in business and do it to make money.

    I feel for you my friend. It is not an easy decision. I only hope that my ranting has helped and not hindered you.

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by stefan k (Curate) on Aug 23, 2001 at 14:18 UTC
    In the above postings mungbeans remark

    Are your clients technical enough to get any benefit out of this?

    is probably the most important one (at least in my ears). Since you're selling the setup for a website and maybe the major rearrangements and changes your clients are probably people who can't do this for themselves. Thus by opensourcing your code you'll just adress others that won't be your clients anyway. And then I can tell you that providing a tool that maintains a website will results in almost no feedback at all. When I gave my w3make to the world exactly one guy out there sent me an email asking this and that so he obviously used the program (BTW I don't know whether he uses it still).

    So I'd say that you won't cut your own flesh by opensourcing your code. Just be careful with the name you choose! ...

    Regards... Stefan

Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by Ven'Tatsu (Deacon) on Aug 22, 2001 at 23:31 UTC
    Since you wrote the code you would have the copyright for it. (unless you were under a contract to another party that gives them rights to your work)
    You can licence it in any way you like, even licencing it diffrent ways to diffrent people. So you can release it under a Open Source licence, and sell it, with or with out source, to any one you like. But, if you take any patches or code from any one you should prabably assume that it is under the same licence as you relased your code under and that, unless they have explicetly asigned you copyright, they hold it on that portion of code, and you can not relicence it to sell it with out source. Some licences incude terms in them that allow loop holes for the originator of the program though.

    Developers should always be allowed to pick how and when there software is distributed.
Re: To Open Or Not To Open
by tlhf (Scribe) on Aug 27, 2001 at 02:01 UTC
    I've not used this license, nor do I know where it came from, but it could be the one for you. It's called the Developer Source License. It allows non-commercial and "tiny-startups" to use your program for free, and hack with it. But they can't sell on the hacked version. I think it's a pretty groovy license for people like yourselves who want to give something back to the none-profit community, but still need to feed your families.

    Commercial entities must purchase the software, and then they can hack with it, I think. Either way, the Resin JSP Server uses it, so check it out there.

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