An alternative to open source licensing?

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Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

I have a lot of time for the open source software (OSS) model – perhaps, most importantly as a QA mechanism. It’s hard to hide bad code and poor practice if the source code is available to everyone to look at. The availability of source code also helps with debugging – but don’t be seduced into ideas of doing your own maintenance and enhancement; you’re probably in a different business to building and maintaining software infrastructure. I like the “Commercial Open Source” model, being developed by, for example, RedHat and JBos, which provides commercially-oriented release schedules and support services.

Nevertheless, although the commercial licence model has real issues (forced upgrades, licence compliance, hidden defects, etc.), so do the open source licensing models. Open source software (OSS) isn’t “free”, of course (licence cost is only a small part of the total cost of software ownership) but it certainly isn’t “license-free” either. There are a lot of different OSS licences, some rather complex and with non-obvious impacts, and if you add in a commercial support model, they may cost more than you expect.

Now RTI has come up with a competing “OSS-like” model, which addresses some of the major issues with OSS – especially “provenance”: do I know where all the code inside my system offering comes from, am I allowed to use it, and has any OSS crept in in such a way as to make me share commercial secrets embedded in my own code?

Stan Schneider, CEO and Founder of RTI doesn’t really see RedHat as an OSS company any more, he says, and he feels very happy to be coming up with a variant of the “commercial open source” model. He calls it Infrastructure Community (IC) licensing, and it’s available for the latest version of the RTI Connext suite I’ve talked about before. In essentials, this licences the product to a defined community group, which gets (free of charge):

  • The latest version of its DDS implementation, the standards-based underpinning of RTI Connext.
  • Library source code and pre-built binaries for both Linux and Windows.

In addition, optional support contracts are available; with the alternative of conventional product licences if you still want them.

Schneider tells me that his customers (who tend to come typically from the more mature healthcare, aerospace and military software-engineering communities) very much like the IC license. RTI quotes Tracy Rausch, CTO of DocBox and a member of the Integrated Clinical Environment (ICE) community as saying “The ICE standard targets safe and effective patient care. Its architecture and functional requirements enable medical device interoperability. RTI’s IC model makes it easier for ICE collaborators in industry and academia to use DDS, advancing research and development. The resulting advanced technologies will allow for safer, more efficient and ultimately lower-cost healthcare.”

I think myself, that the IC licence is a credible alternative to “commercial open source” models and could help make OMG-standard DDS more accessible for a wider range of applications, with organisations that have reservations around OSS licensing at present. As I think that OMG’s DDS standard could well be important for dealing with the emerging “universe of things” (oh, OK, Big Data, if you must) well outside its current scope, I welcome RTI’s licensing innovation (there’s going to be a Webinar on this soon; register here. I will watch its development with interest.