Giving back and making money

It's not easy to build an Open Source software company.

Canonical recently has made a change to its intellectual property policy. The new policy prevents developers from distributing altered binary versions of Ubuntu. Users are still allowed to distribute unaltered Ubuntu freely, but if they make changes to Ubuntu, Canonical wants developers to either go through a review process or remove all references to Canonical trademarks, Canonical logos, and proprietary software and recompile the Ubuntu archive without any of those.

This change has caused friction with the Open Source community; many are not happy with these restrictions as it goes against the culture of Open Source sharing and collaboration. After all, Ubuntu itself is built on top of the work of hundreds of thousands of Open Source developers, and now Ubuntu is making it difficult for others to do the same.

Canonical's stated intention is to protect its trademarks and reputation; they don't want anyone to call something "Ubuntu" when it's not actually "Ubuntu". I understand that. That aside, many understand that the unstated goal is to make money from licensing deals. The changes affect organizations that base their custom distributions on Ubuntu; it's easier to buy a license from Canonical than to figure how to remove all the trademarks, proprietary software, logos, etc.

Jono Bacon, Canonical's former community manager, wrote a balanced post about the situation.

My thoughts? I understand Canonical has to find ways to make money. Most companies are downright greedy, but not Canonical or Mark Shuttleworth. I find the Open Source community "penny wise and pound foolish" about the situation.

I can relate because Canonical, like Acquia, is among a small group of Open Source companies that try to do good and do well at scale. We invest millions of dollars each year contributing to Open Source: from engineering, to marketing, to sponsoring community events and initiatives. It is not easy to build a software company on Open Source, and we all struggle to find the right balance between giving back and making money. This is further complicated when competitors choose to give back less or don't give back at all. Companies like Canonical and Acquia are good for Open Source, and helping them find that balance is key. Don't forget to support those that give back.

Comments

dougvann (not verified):

I would take issue with only one statement:

"Companies like Canonical and Acquia are good for Open Source"

I would have said something like:

"Companies like Canonical and Acquia add tremendously high value and validation to Open Source"

:-)

August 31, 2015
Kursat (not verified):

I am totally with you Dries. Keeping a brand name for open source developers is not banning others to distribute altered versions.

In a worse scenario a hacker may put malicious code to Drupal and distributes it as Drupal, then hacks the sites remotely, by telling Drupal is hacked! Even in this worse scenario, banning distribution of altered Drupal as Drupal is not the solution.

Dries, you and your team already succeeded a big job, by keeping Drupal brand-image to a high level. Keeping brand image at a web CMS software is much much more difficult compared to operating system. Canonical has to stop and think once again.

September 01, 2015