6 views on open source business models

On that random person in Nebraska

  1. Open source is important for the entire industry, sell side (especially in the cloud era) and buy side. Things would go very bad if it did not exist as method of software production and innovation. (Source: see the QED from that one xkcd.)

  2. Open source is a bad business model, it’s very difficult to grow and it conflicts with the VC need for a big pay off. (Sources: The pro-business license changes at open source companies in recent years [too many to cite]; many more; most recently well put by Brian Gracely in his Cloud Sunday Sermon.)

  3. VC funding of open source companies is not a great area for returns (versus other opportunities). VCs should fund closed source (at best, open core) software (and cloud) companies. (Source: while Aneel never says this in words, in the room, it felt like he was saying it with sighs.)

  4. Open source is only sustainable when part of a big company that makes money because open source if a commodified compliment of their closed source/cloud product. (Source: Kubernetes; us in this week’s Software Defined Talk episode.)

  5. Open source is a generational (young boomers and Gen-X) variance that got its last gasp from ZIRP. With cloud and SaaS, there’s little reason to do open source as a business, plus, see #2 above. I like this observation because it shows the bias my generation has to open source as a good business model (and, thus, many of the major thought-leaders, just by age and aggregation of attention over the years, e.g, still being alive). (Sources: Red Hat was always held as the proof of this view, but even they are no longer independent; The Oxide podcast episode on FUD; Pete Cheslock’s DevOps hangover talk.)

  6. Open source is a great business model. (Source[s]: I’m looking for some references; awaiting the sogrady missive).

These are collected from my fellow grumpy old tech men RSS feeds. I need to gather views from other RSS feeds too. I reckon there’s probably some good stuff from the recent Open Source Summit.


What comes out in many of the views above, and what I conclude, is that our focus should no longer be on open source business models, but on open source sustainability models.

“Sustainability” means that you can rely on the software existing, being supported (at least patching bugs and, especially, security problems), and preferably evolved and innovated.

Also, I suspect that a kind of unspoken part of sustainability is “free,” but that gets the goat of many of my generation of open source people. In my experience, when you talk with the buy side, they want “free, as in don’t give me a lecture.”

Open Source Foundations: More Important Than Ever

No matter which view(s) is useful (accuracy is always cool, too), I think it shows the importance of open source foundations. They’re even more important now because they (more or less) are not at the whims of either VCsPE needing a 100x cash-out and mucking with the business models once founders [lose|give up] control and slow growth, nor PE companies doing their [MUCH_LESS]x synergizing and optimizing.

The foundations need to be there as long-term stewards, protectors, and community/marketing management for the products. For example, when that xkcd situation happens, the foundations should be hiring that random person in Nebraska: tracking them as an important, strategic asset for the overall ecosystem that needs to be supported, if not by a mega-company, then by the foundation. I don’t know, you could, like, ask The AI to go look at GitHub and LinkedIn to figure that out, right?

The foundations should also be a common ground and (I can’t think of the positive version of this) bureaucracy1 for maintaining the governance in the community. You know: using transparency to enable potential shame to prevent shenanigans.2

Relative to your interests

  • Is there a business model in “hey guys” videos for enterprise IT buyers? I replied with some two-coffees-in thinking.

  • Supercharged Developer Portals - Spotify Engineering : Spotify Engineering - Spotify is really going for the enterprise product thing! Most importantly, check out the legacy of the Drunk & Retired podcast with The Frontside mention.

  • Generated images for non-generated text and video - ‘It’s only a matter of time until “generative art = spammy bullshit” will be the majority position because that’s how the economics of it are playing out. Using extruded synthetic art will not do your writing or video any favours in the long run.’ // I mean, yes, and…the idea is that in the future, the AI generated images will be so good that you won’t be able to tell. But, that is just an ideas.

  • A Letter from Paul Auster - When the rejection is more comforting than the confirmation.

  • Volo’s Culinary Guide to Icewind Dale - We talk a lot about the downside of the Internet, the web, whatever. But the existence of this as a widely available thing is an example of why the Internet is great. I mean: when would this ever exist otherwise except as some obscure zine on a magazine rack at rundown university coffee shop?

  • Java 17 is now the favorite brew of developers, along with - “About a tenth (9 percent) of applications were using Java 17 in production in 2023, and now 35 percent of applications are using Java 17, representing a nearly 300 percent growth rate in one year. It took years for Java 11 to reach anywhere near that level.” And: “While Oracle retained the top spot in 2022 (34 percent), it slipped to 29 percent in 2023, and it’s now at 21 percent – which represents a 28 percent decrease in one year.” // Sure, but what matters more is: is Oracle making more money off Java or less?

  • Related: The Java migration imperative: Why your business should upgrade now.

  • AWS hits $100 billion revenue run rate, expands margins - (Covered more extensively in this week’s Software Defined Talk.) “The CEO also noted that 85 percent of current IT spend is for on-prem tech. So AWS has plenty of room for growth even as it approaches $100 billion annual revenue.” (1) we’re out of the first inning of cloud, and now into the second inning, the “15% inning of cloud.” (2) selling investors on TAM is dicey. What you’re saying is that the buyers are going to be spending the same (inflation adjusted, I guess), so there will be no price discounts. Counter-argument to (2): the spend will be the same, but buyers will do more/get more: “more with the same.” But, their overall IT budget will remain. I guess that’s macroeconomic “productivity”?

  • Generational Shift - When I was growing up, we watched cartoons from our grandparents, parents, and ours times. We had Groucho Marx references in Bugs Bunny. We watched Scooby Doo and Power Rangers. AND WE LOVED IT. I don’t know of if this is good or bad, it just is. It reminds me of what you see on Europe: kids and old people both know the beer garden drinking songs.

Recent Garbage Chairs of Amsterdam. (Actually, Diemen, but no one outside of NL would care about the distinction.)


  • “Someone who knows English never would have thought of that name!” Here.

  • And: “Ivy is not a momentary trend that you follow, but a tradition to be honored, passed down from your fathers and grandfathers. It’s not just clothing but a way of life.” Ibid.

  • “Welcome to the dematerialization age.” Here (Notice the .do URL - Struts!).

  • I know I’m all like “welcome the party” status on this, but Adam Savage! He’s got something special and interesting going on. How does someone end up like that? (Also, notice that he rarely uses filler words like “uh” or “like.” Instead, I think, he pauses to think…and the editors [is it him?] leave the dead air in! Revolutionary!)

  • Related: If most people are not experts, most people don’t know how an expert will do something and will be interested. Furthermore, experts are generally older and know “everything.” They are interested in learning more esoteric, unique things. The market for experts is very small compared to the market for everyone else. Therefore, for a broadcast medium like YouTube, you probably want to appeal to beginners who are learning, intermediate level people less, and experts the least. (This likely creates a un-virtuous cycle: in a medium like YouTube, there is less content for experts, so experts start thinking “I don’t ever find anything useful there,” so they stop looking there…at least for things in their area of expertise.)

  • The point is not to get there quickly, it’s to get home late.

  • “The shape of the conflict with no details.” Matt Ray.

  • There should be a version of D&D where the “lite” monsters are removed, and it’s just the big ones. E.g., no more Spectator, just Beholders.

Sea Lion Pool, photo by my 4 year old.

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Still on stay-cation; which is to say, I’m sure I have typos and copy-regerts in the above, apologies.

See you next week.


That said, I think the word "bureaucracy" gets a bad wrap. Bureaucracy run the world, and things seem to be going pretty well, if slow. We don't notice or comment on the good bureaucracies, we just call out and bemoan the bad ones. But, for example, have you ever used the single sign-on service DigiID in the Netherlands? The Mobile Passport Control app to enter the US? Had a fraudulent charge on your credit card just go away and you don't have to pay it? Enjoyed driving on a high way? How about paying your bills electronically instead of with paper checks? That's all good bureaucracy in action. Give bureaucracy a hug!


When I talk like this, my therapist is always trying to turn a frown upside down. So: using transparency to show the contributions of community members in,, @cote,,