Brij Singh's Blog

November 28, 2006

Exhibit B, Attribution clause, badgeware and why application software vendors need to maintain their ego

Filed under: Tech — Brij @ 3:07 am

It’s official. Open source battle when described in the context of application software is less about code freedom (beer or whatever) and it’s more about getting end-user attention. Logo is more important than the quality of the software.

Maybe Google economy principles have finally hit the enterprise software ecosystem and are now demanding better price-tag on the end-user attention. What’s the best way to remind people  about the attention tax – put a nice 100px by 25px logo at the bottom of every UI code and enforce click-for-action by making a mandatory link on the logo which will take user to the accepted monetization avenue. Which by the way will always be  a community forum. [ If for some reason that software gets bought out by your competitor then you will be engaged in the noble business of diverting your customer to your competitor ]

There is nothing wrong in all this. Commercial open source vendors  like SugarCRM, SocialText and few others are demanding attribution clause in MPL to be made OSI-approved. They are fully justified in making this request and to a certain extent I support the generic attribution clause proposal. After all  developing software code requires real engineering hours and it does cost money. Though this request makes sense based on the known data points but future can be very very slippery.

http://www.sema.org/images/sn1105_celebrity_04.jpgIf unchecked attribution clause can very well kill the growth of open source applications.  Logo attribution is a  GPL for front -end.  Imagine if all components which go into SugarCRM claim this clause then every UI screen of Sugar will look like a Nascar race car – decked in every possible logo. SugarCRM will hesitate to use Smarty template if Smarty came with the same clause. This logo-burden will kill the effective integration choices and will limit the growth of open source applications. What if all ajax libraries start including this clause? Web2.0 will be dead right there. Remember there is no definitive distinction between “application” and “application component” and that’s why its going to be very slippery.

This debate is not going away soon. This time there is a widspread belief that any defensive software business model has to have an open source strategy. Venture community has jumped into this as well. So there is a clear exit expectation build around “commercial open source”. Redhat has proven the merit of support subscription revenue. To guarantee that subscription revenue, there is an attempt to permanently engage users via attribution logo. That’s where exhibit B comes. This in-your face strategy is a necessity for meeting high revenue expectations.

I don’t see much upside in this debate. Application vendors take their messaging inspiration from the school of Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff. Meaning most of the time it’s a contact sport. In this context the world of OSI comes out as a different culture altogether.

Which is why we will see conflict and eventually a fork in the open source philosphy.  OSI with it’s geeky and  algorithmic conversational style will collide right on with this blog-powered VC-backed attribution-clause loving coterie. Open source in this debate is just an orphan meme getting tossed around to gain few attention points.

More on this topic:

- Generic attribution clause proposal by wiki software vendor
- Nicholas Goodman’s funny but possible future scenario
- Debate on OSI-license mailing list
- David Berlind’s wonderful summary which provoked further debate

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