Balancing Open Source and Commerce
If ever there was a topic that someone was qualified to discuss, it would be me talking about how open source companies need to balance the interests of their community while making money. In fact, our company is named Funambol because it is based on the Latin words funis (rope) and ambulare (walking) that mean a tightrope walker. Managing an open source company requires constantly walking a tightrope that balances the needs of the community and the business. Every step involves decisions between keeping the community committed and satisfying commercial customers.
Choosing the right business model for an open source company is paramount for success. Even the largest and most well-known open source companies such as Red Hat and MySQL are still a work-in-progress. Yes, they have millions of users, and sales in the many millions of dollars. But they face constant threats to their business. What's to prevent another large entity from deciding that since Red Hat's code is open source, it can provide the same services as Red Hat? What's the guarantee that as MySQL gains even more free users that this will translate into profits? While there is no doubt that open source is a disruptive force to commercial software companies, open source companies themselves are susceptible to being "disrupted" as others can just take advantage of their openness.
Since we started Funambol five years ago, I have thought a lot about a business model that allows open source to be a viable alternative to proprietary software.