On ownership, control and awareness

This article made quite a bit of noise in some communities. Marc Fleury, of JBoss fame, plays Bill Gates in what seems to be an evil dominance plan geared to “own” the code of some of the most successful Open Source projects.

Fleury might be a visionary man, but indeed he’s lacking one of the most importan CEO virtues: diplomacy. At times, he just manages to choose the worst wording ever to make his point across, and this is no exception. Because, yes, he does have a point, and a strong one actually.

Bringing business to Open Source is difficult, and no one has the silver bullet. Indeed, however, control is one of the most important issues: there is no point in building a mid-term strategy if the foundation of your core business is in the hands of a community you don’t belong to, who can steer directions the next moment from now. You need to have ways to control such steerings, and at times you just have to avoid them.

But even control is a nasty word that makes people think of Big Brother or the Borg. How about awareness then? If you are running a business based on Open Source tools and frameworks, you need to be aware of what’s going on, what are the current and future directions, what are the actual risks of the project itself, while being able to voice your opinion in the community. If you don’t have this amount of you-name-it (awareness? control? ownership?), you’re just playing with fire and, sooner or later, you’ll get burnt.

Now, how do you reach awareness if youu’re a corporation? If you haven’t been a founder of the project (as JBoss LLC is to the application server) and you’re not a small shop, you have no other options than buying it. Buying awareness, in turns, means buying people that possess such quality, so I can definitely see a reason for JBoss to keep on hiring OSS developers. But only as long as he knows what he’s buying: lots of highly useful awareness, possibly some control but no code ownership at all. And, in any case, he’s actually renting rather than buying: people will leave (and Fleury knows that), so it’s always better to have a backup plan.