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InfoQ Homepage News Exploring the Motivations for the Inaugural Open Core Summit: Q&A with Founder Joseph Jacks

Exploring the Motivations for the Inaugural Open Core Summit: Q&A with Founder Joseph Jacks

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The inaugural Open Core Summit will be running September 19-20th in San Francisco. InfoQ recently sat down with the founder of the summit, Joseph Jacks, and explored his motivations for running this event and discussed why he believes new commercial open source software businesses should focus on creating the maximum level of value possible, but be comfortable accepting the fundamental reality that they can only capture a small fraction of that value.

As reported previously by InfoQ, generally there is no industry consensus on the best method of funding open source development. Many continue to believe that open source software should be completely free (“as in beer”), but models such as "open core" or "dual licensing" appear to be the most promising approaches for supporting future commercial open-source companies.

Cloud providers are also now adopting open-source software and making it commercially available as software-as-a-service (SaaS), without necessarily adding value or supporting future development. While open-source development is not going to disappear overnight, the future of commercial open-source vendors has become a talking point amongst many within the industry.

The increasing cloud-based adoption of certain software has also triggered some open-source projects to recently change their licensing modes. For example, late last year Confluent announced changes to the license for some components of their Confluent Platform, a streaming platform which provides capabilities to transport data, and tools to connect systems and data sources. The license changes specifically focus on restricting the usage of these components by SaaS providers.

It is within this nascent mix of evolving licenses and changing software consumption models that the inaugural Open Core Summit (OCS) is being arranged, and the goal of the event is to provide a meeting and learning place and global platform for industry participants (founders, developers, cloud vendors, VCs, analysts, people working within the enterprise space, and more) to share their experiences and ideas.

InfoQ sat down with Joseph Jacks, founder of OCS, with the goal of learning more about the inaugural conference.

InfoQ: Can you introduce the Open Core Summit (OCS) conference? What inspired you to arrange this type of event?

Joseph Jacks: OCS was Marco Palladino's idea, kindly seeded to me over a fun conversation Marco and I were having at AWS re:Invent in late 2018. Marco is a dear friend and a truly brilliant COSS founder/CTO of Kong.

OCS is the global COSS ecosystem conference. OCS was founded to celebrate the burgeoning Commercial Open-Source Software (COSS) category of software.

COSS represents the fusion and embrace of an open core built by OSS developers with a differentiated user experience for customers wrapped around that open core (the crust). This crust may or may not include proprietary code. In the case of Red Hat for example, their value added crust is their insurance policy business model. COSS is business model agnostic. It serves simply to codify a different category. 

COSS companies are defined as fundamentally existing because of the tautological existence of an open source core project. For example, Cloudera would not exist without Hadoop, Databricks would not exist without Spark, GitLab/GitHub would not exist without Git, HashiCorp would not exist without Vagrant and a handful of other open core projects, etc.

We believe several key things are true: that most companies are becoming tech companies; and the best tech companies are fundamentally highly proficient software companies; and the best software companies fundamentally build vastly on open source; and we believe the next multi-trillion dollar category of software companies will be COSS companies. This shift is extremely profound -- bigger than cloud computing -- and will change the world forever.

InfoQ: Can you introduce readers to the co-evolution of software models and business models? Over the years we have seen licensing around commercial software, free software, and open source etc, and with commercializing we have seen support and services, open core, and SaaS.

Jacks: We have previously written “COSS Business Model Progressions”, that explores the evolutionary dynamics related to how COSS companies commercialize across a kind of spectrum: services, support, packaging, distro, *aaS and so on.

Over time, we expect to see significant business model evolution. Licensing models are orthogonal to business models.

InfoQ: What are your thoughts around the recent open-source license changes that are being seen in relation, for example, to several popular database products that have been hosted on public clouds?

Jacks: Ultimately, we strongly believe that founders should embrace highly standardized open-source licensing models at the core e.g. A2.0, MIT, GPLv3, etc. there are many options -- COSSI reflects much of the core licensing implementations that the top 40+ COSS companies use. For readers wanting more insight, on a recent Software Engineering Daily podcast I also expanded quite extensively on my personal thoughts.

One of my partners at OSS Capital, Heather Meeker, has been at the heart of all of these licensing evolutions, given her track record and work in COSS licensing going back 20+ years. Of course, Heather's clients in private law practice do ask for specific constraints and as a lawyer, Heather has served her clients' needs/asks.

One exciting recent development we expect to see more news around is the PolyForm project, spearheaded by Heather: https://oss.capital/blog/polyform-and-open-core

InfoQ: What are the biggest challenges for anyone looking to start a business based on open core/source software? What advice would you give them?

Jacks: Focus on creating the maximum level of value that you can, and accept that capturing a tiny amount of that value is not only the most effective way to scale, but it is the best way, and will make the world a truly better place.

Yes, this is highly counterintuitive to the traditional wisdom of capturing as much value as you can. Ultimately, though, COSS embodies a somewhat novel kind of capitalism that I like to call "meritocratic capitalism," as opposed to "monopolistic capitalism". This is highly nuanced and something we plan to expand on and write about in the future.

For a bit more on this, read this blog post: “COSS Company Value Creation and Capture Fundamentals”.

InfoQ: What type of attendees are you expecting at the event? And what do you hope the biggest/clearest takeaways will be?

Jacks: We expect a mix of enterprises, investors, founders, OSS maintainers, COSS founders, analysts and executives.

The goal of OCS is to bring together all of these constituents to share, learn, collaborate and build consensus on best practices and innovation in the explosively exciting COSS category!

More information about the Open Core Summit can be found on the event’s website.

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