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Open source check list

There is nothing wrong with a company wanting to keep customers and partners, but it is somewhat counter to the term open source and at odds with the term free software. An enterprise has to be prepared to ensure that the enterprise open source vendor they are dealing with is really as open as they need.

Here's a checklist of questions to ask :-

1. Does the vendor offer support for the community version of the product?

2. Do they offer that community version support on a per-incident basis?

3. Is the same feature set available in the community and enterprise versions?

4. Is the enterprise version free of proprietary components? If there are any, are there open source replacements for them?

5. Under an enterprise subscription, will the vendor make best efforts to support modified versions of their product?

6. Is the enterprise products source code made available to the customer in its entirety (or only the components that are present in the community version)?

7. Are the vendor's partners allowed to install and work with the community version?

8. Can a customer, if they want to, replace a typical enterprise installation with the community version?

9. Are there people other than the vendor's employees contributing to the community version?

If the answer to any of these questions in "No", then it is worth digging deeper into how much freedom the enterprise version of a product gives you. Although "freedom" with software is a somewhat abstract concept for the enterprise, and always rates quite low on enterprise open source surveys, it does affect the total cost of ownership. The lock ins outlined earlier could increase sunset costs, the ability respond to new requirements or the availability of expertise with the product. Just because a company has a product with a version under an open source licence does not make the company operate on the lines of an open source community. If customers are to get the full life-cycle benefit of open source, they need access to all of the freedoms that it implies.

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