Open Core – not just a religious issue

Having a business model in which you sell a proprietary version of an otherwise Open Source project is a slippery slope that erodes user freedom. Nginx’s decision to release a paid only version of their popular server software might seem like good business sense, given the widespread adoption of their product, but in fact it has potential to decrease their value.

Part of the problem simply comes down to language. If it’s clear that the software you’re buying is proprietary, you don’t expect to be able to continue building your business on the functions of that software if you split with the vendor. By selling a product as a “Premium version” of an Open Source product however, customers are left with the impression that they can fall back on a non-premium version if needs be. This is very misleading as the premium version can have many functions not found elsewhere, essentially locking customers into the product on a false premise. If the premium version used a different branding and avoided strong association with the open source project, making its proprietary nature clear to customers, there wouldn’t be a problem.

The direction Nginx chooses to go in will be interesting to see, but the announcement of their new product has already provoked widespread dismay in the free and open source software communities. As Apache HTTPD veteran and Apache board member Jim Jagielski pointed out Nginx’s priority is now going to lie with the proprietary code, very likely at the expense of the free code. Whilst probably making some money in the short term, Nginx risk devaluing the code and product on which they’ve built their name. Read more in today’s InfoWorld article.