Open Source  and Open Source Licensing for commercial software

This page shows you why you should carefully consider using open source software in commercial software: Advantages and disadvantages of open source usage, why open source is used in commercial software and how to manage and control open source usage.

Professional management of open source licenses

Most important is professional management of open source usage by defining an open source policy for your software company and by following structured processes for open source approval and control. Rest assured that attorneys, consultants and tool vendors are there to assist you.

Advantages of Open Source usage

Simple and fast access to open source are often named as key advantages. Low cost and high quality are additional reasons to consider open source. For a software vendor, there might also be a strategic advantage to use open source software to provide the "non-competitive" part of a solution, while the developers care for the competitive part of the solution.

Motivation for open source usage in commercial software

Usually there are numerous open sources used in commercial software. It makes sense to use open source in commercial software if and only if you can comply with the license attached to that open source software. If you do so, you can leverage open source to quickly create functionality and to build on trusted functionality that is provided by software vendors or the open source community.

Relevance of Open Source Licensing

Open source components like the International Components for Unicode, ICU,or Hibernate are used in many commercial software solutions. Non-compliance with the license terms can have dramatic consequences. To avoid these consequences, a software vendor has to install an open source licensing policy and practice. But what are the negative aspects and side effects of open source licenses? Open source licensing is also a relevant part of due diligence efforts in the software industry as explained in this book:

Please find more information on this topic here: Open Source Licensing.

Business models for commercial open source companies

But how are commercial companies building their business models around open source? how do they leverage the community to be successful? this presentation elaborates on these questions and provides a framework to create commercial business models around open source.

Potential disadvantages of open source

Use of open source in commercial software can show the following disadvantages:

  • Missing commercial services, like support and service level agreements impact the ability to run in commercial environments;
  • Commercialization of software might be blocked;
  • Missing or incomplete license attributes, like e.g. for sublicensing software or running software in an on demand environment;
  • Missing warranty and liability;
  • Non-compliance with license terms might lead to litigations.

Open Source licenses and software supply chains

Usage and licensing rights are transferred between players in the software supply chain. Software passed along the supply chain might contain open source software, too. Due to the copyleft effect in certain licenses, the non-compliance of one supplier might impact all other software companies down the supply chain.

So software vendors should diligently check which open source components are contained in the software supplied to them and which license terms apply.

The use of tools eases the work on this problem. You can use open source scanners to find open source code and the corresponding license terms. From my point of view the best scanner is provided by BlackDuck Software.

Establishing open source policy and open source licensing

Proactive management of open source usage and open source licensing is paramount for commercial software vendors. From design to shipment of software solutions, open source management is demanded.

Before you start with open source management, you have to define your open source policy containing:
  • Intensity of governance
  • Budget for Open Source Scan Tools
  • Risk level accepted by the management
  • A process for approving and for governance of used open source components.

Please find more information on this topic here: Open Source Governance.

Proactive management of Open Source Components

An active approach to software development is to provide access to open source component in development tools. The development tools allow using open sources, that the company allows under the open source policy. One example for such a tool is the tool provided by Black  Duck Software .

More on this topic will be published soon as part of my research in the House of IT.

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(c) Copyright by Karl Popp 2015

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