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Open source creators: Red Hat got $34 billion and you got $0. Here's why.

Donald Fischer on October 31, 2018

In the aftermath of IBM’s announced acquisition of Red Hat for $34 billion in the largest software deal ever, countless VC investor, stock analyst,... [Read Full]
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Hi Donald, thanks for the detailed explanation!

To play the devil's advocate: RedHat is also in the business of doing a thing that a lot of OS developers don't want to do or are not equipped to do (and you mentioned it): maintaing the code forever and ever (or at least til the terms in the agreement).

Back in the days (many years ago), when I was active in the local .NET community and open source wasn't much of a thing in the Microsoft world, I had a conversation many with a Microsoft MVP who hated open source. I was already playing with Python and other opensource tools and he wasn't impressed. What he told me is that he disliked open source because him and the company he worked for wanted (I'm serious) "someone to sue if things went south". Most OS developers are not incorporated and some companies, sadly, would rather rewrite the tool from scratch (or steal it without you knowing it) then to have to deal with a freelance "nobody".

What you guys doing at Tidelift is very interesting and much needed :-).

I wonder if there's also some evolution in the landscape of licensing models because I feel there has to be some improvement there too. What do you think?


I do think there is plenty of room for innovation with licenses. On the other hand, I fear that many of the recent "new license" discussions have been attempts to solve a business model problem with legal technology, while there may be simpler and more constructive approaches. My Tidelift co-founder Luis Villa wrote on this topic recently here, in case you're interested to check out another perspective.


Yeah I agree with you and your co-founder. Adding license confusion is not the solution. Changing a license means getting the company lawyers involved which makes it more work for the company which doesn't really help anyone.

Maybe Redis Labs is able to pull it off because Redis is such a pervasive (and sometimes essential) tool in software stacks, but it won't work for everyone.


Red Hat got paid billions selling what you created, and you got paid jack.

Do you think it’s fine to start self-promoting writing with a lie about successful to-some-extent-competitor? RH never sold the source code and you should probably know that.


The central point of my argument is that unlike earlier enterprise software businesses, Red Hat never sold code. Quoting myself: "Red Hat was never in the business of selling software."

During its heyday, Red Hat did more than any other company to advance the cause of open source, including demonstrating a scalable business model. That enabled Red Hat to productively employ many open source contributors over the years, including many of my closest friends and collaborators, and invest untold amounts in open source projects. Still, it's an incontrovertible fact that most individuals whose code became part of Red Hat's enterprise products never saw a dime for it.

My opinion is that we should learn from the best parts of Red Hat's business model, and seek to improve it to better align incentives between creators and users of open source. I'm putting my money where my mouth is by working every day to make that possible.


As a developer interested in OSS, capable of maintaning a few small tools/libraries, and searching for its place on the market, Tidelift sounds interesting.

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