A few years after the takeovers of Red Hat and Github, open source is still going strong. Just as Microsoft has changed its mind on the entire concept of open source — Steve Ballmer once famously likened Linux to “a cancer” — many in the open source community have welcomed the idea of commercialization. Developers may have once been reluctant to monetize open source, but the needle has shifted because they realize it’s more effective to finance true open source projects rather than facing the potential for project failure due to mismanagement or even more prosaic reasons such as project maintainers feeling along, burning out on a project, or making mistakes.
Behind this shift is a simple realization: For open source projects to thrive and reach their full potential, the creators behind them have to be rewarded for their efforts. There’s only so far developers can take their pet side projects, even with the collaborative nature of open source projects, and as personal priorities shift, so does the amount of time people can give over to their projects.
In turn, businesses are more willing to use and create open source projects, as the benefits far outweigh the risks. To businesses that have never used open source, other people having access to your code may seem akin to sharing all of your secrets, but it’s really not like that.
How to Monetize Open Source
If anyone can hit up GitHub and download whatever they want, why do they have any need for the people and businesses behind the code? What’s to stop them from simply forking a project and making it their own, which is exactly what Amazon Web Services did in early 2021?
There is no long-term advantage to doing this. Sure, with open source, you can fork a project to build on it and make it your own, but all you get is the code. You cannot fork the company or personal vision that brought a project to life in the first place.
There are different options to making open source work commercially, but some examples are:
- Add-on services—By offering levels of support or other paid-for add-ons, businesses can benefit from open source but also get paid for their specialist expertise on a particular product. Businesses can make their projects open so that others can build on them while monetizing their knowledge and expertise.
- Paid versions—Access to private repositories through a subscription means that customers have a try-before-you-buy option, with the benefits of being open source but with a tier that can be monetized. This does mean maintaining different versions of the same code.
- Software as a Service—By hosting the software on behalf of businesses that request it means gaining customers that want to avoid security and maintenance costs. Those companies that are happy to host and maintain the software themselves have “free” access.
There are different models, and they can be combined, but businesses are able to embrace open source, with the collaboration and community that goes with it, without rejecting commercial viability.