Veridian source code license vs. traditional open source

Author: Stefan Boddie, Managing Director, DL Consulting Ltd.
Date: 2014-07-22

Most of the key people working on Veridian come from a background producing open source software (the Greenstone Digital Library software). We believe in the principles and benefits of making source code available, and as such we do offer a source code license for Veridian. Veridian is not traditional “open source software” however, as we’re unable to allow our source code to be redistributed. Nor is Veridian or its source code free, since we unfortunately can’t afford to work for free!

With Veridian’s source code license you do receive a copy of the source code, and are free to modify it yourself or employ a third-party vendor to modify it for you. The only additional restriction when compared with a more traditional open source license is that you are not permitted to give away or sell the software or the source code to others.

There are many fantastic open source software (OSS) products available to libraries, and for many different types of projects open source is a great solution. Likewise for some projects there are compelling reasons to choose a commercial option like Veridian — just ask our customers!

This page contains our thoughts about the pros and cons for choosing an open source solution. The best advice we can offer is to do your homework on the available options and talk to other projects about their experiences. Don’t choose open source simply because you like the concept, or because of a perception that it’s “free”. For most projects there’s more to it than that!

The benefits of traditional open source software

The benefits — both real and perceived — of traditional open source software include the following:

  • It reduces the risk you’ll be locked in with a single vendor. That is, if you have the source code you can support and modify the software in-house, or outsource it to any third-party vendor. And if your vendor disappears or stops supporting the software you can change to a new vendor. In our view this is the most important benefit of open source, and Veridian’s source code license is intended to give you that same freedom.
  • The software costs less, and is often free.
  • The software is potentially “better quality”, since lots of people are able to view the source code and identify bugs.
  • If you wish to do so you can redistribute any changes you make to the code to others, for the potential benefit of other projects.

Misconceptions about open source software

Misconception #1. Open source is free or cheap

Implementing a complex project using open source software is rarely free. Not every library has the resources and skills to set up, customize, enhance, and maintain a software solution in-house, and for those that do there are often considerable ongoing costs. I came across a great quote in a blog post on forbes.com, which I’ve reproduced below.

Think of commercial software as a house and open source software as everything you need to build a house — raw lumber, nails, sheet rock, windows, plumbing fixtures and the rest. You can spend your money and buy the house, or you can spend your time and build the house. Either way, you pay for your house.

Misconception #2. Open source projects have large, dedicated developer communities, producing high-quality software

When we think of open source software we naturally think of the large successful projects — Firefox, Apache, MySQL, Linux… Those projects do have huge developer communities and enormous numbers of users, and they produce great software.

Unfortunately most open source projects aren’t like that, especially in small niches like the library sector. Most open source projects — even the very successful ones like Greenstone, dSpace, and Fedora — are driven by a small core group of developers (often less than six people). Despite popular belief those core developers aren’t often enthusiasts working for free from their bedrooms and basements. They are in fact professional programmers who are paid to develop the software. The people paying the bills are usually either (a) an academic institution, as is the case with Greenstone and many others, or (b) a commercial organization who sell services in support of the software. In almost every case open source software projects need money to survive.

The majority of open source projects therefore only last as long as their core developer team can be held together. Of the 550,000+ open source projects listed on Ohloh in 2012 only 47,000 (about 9%) had received code commits within the past year. So the world is littered with a huge number of OSS projects that have been abandoned or are inactive.

For these same reasons most open source projects are not producing software which is of higher quality than comparable commercial software. For both OSS and commercial software quality is only as good as the core development team — the “more eyes on the code makes for better software” theory simply doesn’t apply to most OSS projects.

Veridian source code license as an alternative to open source software

Veridian has taken many thousands of hours to create and it’s simply not possible to continue to develop it without generating some money to fund that development. For now we choose to do that by selling Veridian either as a licensed software product or a hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, and by providing commercial services and support to those who choose to purchase the software.

We believe though that the most important benefit of open source software is preventing vendor lock-in, and Veridian’s source code license is an effective way to do that.