Hybrid Open Source Software Development & Business Models

Peter GroenStarting in the early 2000s, a number of companies began to release a portion of their product's source code to the open source community, while keeping key parts closed. This allowed them to make claims that their company and products were open source. These products were termed commercial open source or hybrid open source software, to distinguish them from true free and open source software (FOSS).

In hybrid open source business models, some of the software products are released using a business-friendly open source license, but some of the special source code add-ons are only available for a fee. There currently appear to be two major forms of the hybrid open source business model.

One approach involves the emergence of new companies from within the open source software development communities. They coalesce around a model where they remain committed to the open source solution and approach but start to offer support and services to the user community for a fee in order to survive and thrive. Examples of some of these types of companies include Drupal, SugarCRM, Mirth, KitWare, MedSphere, and more.

The second approach involves major software companies actively participating in open source development process and communities, while their core business approach remains focused on the release and support of more robust proprietary solutions that only incorporate some open source components. Variations on this hybrid open source business model are being pursued by many big-name companies like Google, IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and more.

To summarize, hybrid open source solutions encompass the features of open source software development and the strength of open communities, while then being released, marketed, and supported by a growing number of successful companies. A whole new industry and the job market is being created around this new, emerging open market.

Nevertheless, major differences of opinion exist around this whole issue.  What do you think?  Is the emergence of hybrid open source software products and companies something you support? Or is it something we need to guard against? Talk to us.

* See results of Google search of Hybrid Open Source Business Models