Rod and Spring Source continue to make some questionable decisions on the licensing and distribution of the Spring Framework.  I’m wondering if Rod is getting some serious pressure to deliver on the more than $25 Million in VC money he’s gotten over the past 2 years, he’s plain getting bad advice, or just had an SMD moment with the OSS freeloaders out there that refuse to buy subscriptions for technology that isn’t much more than an EJB container and Struts.

I told you so!

The latest botched attempt to monetize Spring was the announcment that they would not be releasing community versions 3 months after a major release and further point releases could only be gotten from a subscription.  The Spring community was pretty pissed off as noted by this 200 post TSS Thread.

A year ago I warned you VC initiated things like this might happen to Spring when I demanded to Standardize Spring in EE 6.  Open source alone doesn’t isolate you from vendor-lockin.  Its standards + open source combined that give you true freedom.  Its why we standardized Hibernate under JPA and why we’re standardizing Seam under the Web Beans specification.

A Bad Move

The funny thing is, this money grab by Rod and company didn’t need to happen.  The move left me scratching my head in wonderment at the stupidity of SS management.  This move was stupid for two reasons:

  1. Spring Source pissed off their community for no good reason.  Developers can still get access to the latest and greatest Spring source code, but they have to build it themselves.  (And also hope the current branch is stable, but that really shouldn’t be a problem with using SVN and timestamp checkouts).  What I bet will happen is some people who haven’t tried EJB3 will try it now.  Others will simply look for an alternative like Google’s Guice framework or even JBoss Seam.  Others, with more initiative might even fork Spring.  Hey, its ASL, it could even live at!  Actually?  No, this isn’t a very big deal.  JBoss supposedly pissed off the open source “mainstream” years and years ago (2003) and this didn’t hurt our growth rate, or hinder our dominance.  Still, bad PR is bad PR.
  2. More importantly, Spring Source screwed up their ecosystem.  How?  Many Java open source projects rely on Spring to bootstrap themselves, or for integration purposes.  For example, the Grails projects uses Spring extensively.  This move by Spring Source has screwed projects like Grails that have depended on Spring to work.  The problem is that 90% of Spring (at least the 90% of what people use Spring for) is the integration it does with other third-party products and projects.  What happens to Spring if the third-party projects in their ecosystem stop using Spring to integrate?  Rod just endangered the very thing that makes Spring compelling!

A Better Way

What boggles my mind here is that this could have been done very differently.  WE DO NOT DO THIS AT JBOSS!!! WE CONTINUALLY RELEASE COMMUNITY VERSIONS OF OUR SOFTWARE. And yet, we have are are still growing like crazy.  What makes people buy subscriptions is value-add.

The biggest value add is that large organizations want to know that you are going to support versions of your software for years.  Let’s say 3-5 years after its released.  Spring Source, could have left their announcement at “We will support Spring versions for 3 years” and it would have been a huge win for them.  I know it helped our sales when we announced a similar support policy years ago.

Another value-add is what we built with the JBoss Operations Network.  JON not only gives you management and monitoring, but also helps with pushing patches and critical security updates to users as quickly as possible.  You make distribution a service that people want to pay for.

A third value-add is to give away proprietary add-ons with the subscription.  For us, what we did was license or acquire proprietary technology.  We licensed the underlying technology of JON, which we later open sourced.  We acquired technology from Excedel to help productize our Eclipse tool offering.

The fourth and final, is of course indemnification.  Where we protect you legally from lawsuits.

The Drug Dealer Approach

Instead of modeling themselves like other open source businesses, Rod had to take the drug dealer approach to professional open source.  Give open source users a free taste of pure open source smack, get them hooked, then charge them big bucks when they need a fix for their Spring addiction.  What’s sad, it just didn’t have to be this way.