In 2009, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Building a Stronger Open Source Product”. I used that post to share the philosophy behind Alfresco Community Edition, and to provide guidelines for when a feature of Alfresco is made freely-available and when it is paid-only.
Alfresco has evolved significantly since that time. We added one SaaS offering and are working on another, we published mobile apps and SDK’s for both iOS and Android, and we released an enterprise version of Activiti. At Alfresco Summit we will be discussing our release of Alfresco 5.0. That’s a lot of change in the last five years!
Given this rapid evolution, we want to reaffirm our commitment to open source as well as set expectations around what you should expect from us moving forward. Our goal of taking the content management and business process management worlds by storm has not changed, and our strategy has matured along with our company.
Our Open Source Principles
The core tenets of my 2009 blog post haven’t changed even as the company has progressed, but we will reformulate them in the context of where Alfresco is today and where we are headed.
1. We want you to be successful with all of our software and solutions.
Whether you are currently a paying customer or not, we want you to be successful with our software and solutions. We do not intend to hinder our freely available offerings. We believe that if you have a great experience with our products, you will continue to trust us. This will ultimately lead you to becoming a paying customer.
When we choose to make a product like Alfresco Community Edition freely-available under an OSI-approved open source license, we want that product to be high-quality, provide significant value, and solve important business problems. An evaluation of our open source products should demonstrate our brand’s value by representing the capabilities of our expanded products. To assist you in being successful, we make resources such as our official documentation and our issues tracker public, and we invest resources in things like the public forums and the wiki.
There are currently features that are only available in Alfresco Enterprise Edition and our other paid products, and we expect to add more over time. Later in this post I will explain how we make those decisions. My point is that if you don’t need the features available in the paid version, and you choose to invest your own time and resources supporting the software yourself, that should be a realistic choice for you to make.
More information on the specific differences between Alfresco Community Edition and Alfresco Enterprise Edition is available on our site for the Community Edition product.
2. Alfresco has been and will continue to be an open source company. We will provide freely-available, viable alternatives to commercial software and solutions, including our own.
Every year is an election year for us. If you are paying for commercial support for a particular piece of software we provide, or paying for one of our hosted solutions, we do not want to hold you hostage. We will provide you with a practical way to take your data with you so that you can run it in an open source alternative that you support yourself, if you choose to do so.
The open source alternatives we provide may not be a drop-in replacement. For example, suppose we release a Widget Management SaaS offering that is only available to paid subscribers. The open source alternative might be a community-contributed user interface running on top of Alfresco Community Edition installed on an organization’s own servers. They might have to use our API to migrate the data or write some code to get the same end-user features, and they will have to support it themselves. But if an organizations wants to do the heavy lifting, we will not put roadblocks in the way.
3. We will make certain features of the core platform available only to those who pay for support. Additionally, we may make entire solutions that sit on the core platform paid-only.
We believe that the larger or more mission-critical an installation is, the more sense it makes for a company to pay for additional features and commercial support. Therefore, when it comes to the core platform, most features that we reserve for paying customers will be related to scalability and ease of administration for large installations.
There may be some features which are not core to basic use cases that we only make available to paying customers. If the open source version would be unusable for common cases without that feature, the feature will not be paid-only. Examples of potential paid features include those specific to a niche use case such as contract management. Other examples include features that not everyone requires, such as synchronizing content to the Alfresco public cloud.
And we will continue to make integrations with proprietary products part of our paid solutions.
There may be entire solutions that sit on top of the core repository, both on-premises and SaaS, that we make available only to paying customers. This is how almost every SaaS solution is being developed today. Companies build on top of open source and contribute back to those projects, but the solution itself is rarely made available as open source software.
Do Well, Do Good, Innovate
At Alfresco Summit 2013 in Boston, Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal and the co-founder of the commercial open source company, Acquia, made an astute observation. He said that the commercial open source model allows us to do well by building a profitable commercial company, and to do good, by making quality software freely-available to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. We couldn’t agree more.
Our openness also allows you, the community, to build amazing things on top of our platform. The community-as-innovation engine concept continues to be important to us as a company. We know that to keep the community interested we have to keep feeding it with quality open source software and open API’s. That is exactly what we will continue to do.