Don’t call them FLOSS editors, but rather FLOSS incubators

I’ve been in disagreement with some of my friends in France around the terminology of FLOSS “editors”. I don’t like that name “editor” as it doesn’t reflect really what a FLOSS incubator does, and tends to create proximity with the commercial software editors which is a completely different beast.

A commercial software editor pays developers to produce a software that will then be sold for fee to their users with a license restricting usage and prohibiting redistribution, with or without sources. He tries to produce regular versions to incitate users to upgrade, because that’s the way they are getting their revenue. They can additionally sell other services to their users such as training, support, consulting, but that’s not their core activity, and BTW most of the time, these activities are performed by pure services companies instead.

On the contrary a FLOSS incubator pays developers to produce a software that will then be delivered openly through Web, FTP or VCS/CMS means to their users. He also tries to produce regular versions to fix problems and add new features. That’s the way their developers stay interested in the project. But that doesn’t bring any money to them. Ok, sometimes, you can get paid to develop a certain feature that is of interest to a dedicated customer, but he will get it as part of a next version, once upstream, and thus doesn’t pay for accessing to it strictly, but to initiate its coding (which could even be mutualized). What makes a living for such companies is only the fact that they sell services to their users, which could be as useful as packaging “Enterprise ready” versions of their deliveries, so they can base on it a clean support contract. But that remains service, and not software edition per se.

And in fact generally the creation of a FLOSS incubator is coming from a pair of friends wanting to develop more services around a piece of software that they had written, or were chartered to write. Their competencies around the software, as the designers, are indeed key to get interesting service offering proposals from customers who want a certain level of “insurance” around their tool usage.

But if these people start selling a license for the software usage, even an extension around it (what some call Open Core), then they have become simply a commercial software editor, and cannot be seen as a FLOSS incubator anymore, at least for the part related to that activity.

And FLOSS incubators really incubate the software, giving it a place where it can grow quietly, as is done for some foundations projects such as the Apache one. And that title of FLOSS incubator could be turned into a very positive term, whereas an editor is today seen as taking profit of a situation rather than bringing value to our society (case of a large music editor which only wants to make money with publishing CDs, and does not support the artists’ career anymore on a long time). And there is a tendancy for these activities to disappear, when they have no justification anymore (and that’s why these editors, as well as the software editors, are angry wrt open distribution of information/content).

If someone comes up with a better term than incubator, I’m all for it. But I’d really like that my friends in this business stop calling themselves editors and start using FLOSS incubator or whatever else please them. Would make the distinction of their activity much clearer, and naturally disinguishes pure player from Open Core players.

In our FLOSS ecosystem, what you pay at the end of the day are people’s competencies, and real quality value behind project and people brands. And FLOSS incubators are here to have these people and brands grow over time. This deserves revenue back, and support from the community.

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