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Ask Slashdot: Open Vs. Closed-Source For a Start-Up 325

Posted by samzenpus
from the better-like-this-or-better-like-this dept.
atamagabakkaomae writes "Together with a friend, I am starting up a company in Japan that develops sensors used in motion capture. For these sensors we develop hardware and software. Part of the software development is an open-source toolkit called openMAT. We have some special purpose algorithms that we developed ourselves and that are better than our competitor's technology. I first wanted to publish everything open-source to spark interest in our company and to do development in collaboration with the community. My company partner disagreed and said that we will lose our technological advantage if we open-source it. So I eventually published only a part of the toolkit open-source and closed the most interesting code. How do you guys think that open-sourcing your code-base affects a company's business? Is it wrong for a small company to give away precious intellectual property like that or will it on the contrary help the development of the company?"
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Ask Slashdot: Open Vs. Closed-Source For a Start-Up

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  • by Calibax (151875) * on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:57PM (#38338634)

    You believe you have better algorithms than the competition. Starting a company is hard enough without giving Christmas presents to the competition. Keep everything closed while the company is young and vulnerable. Open source your code later if it won't help the competition AND you believe it will add value to your company. How far would Google have progressed if they had open sourced their search engine ten minutes after they had it working?

    Frankly, if you have to ask this question you aren't really serious about succeeding.

    • by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:09PM (#38338708)
      The question is: How is publishing code as open source of advantage to you? That's what you have to ask yourself. If you base your work on existing open source code, then you obviously have the advantage of being able to use that code, and the disadvantage that everyone else can use your additions. Or if you had a customer that would pay you lots of money if you let them integrate your code into their open source code, that would be an advantage. But I can't quite see in your case how you benefit from opening up your source.
      • by spyder-implee (864295) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:24PM (#38338824)
        I think it might depend on how the company is viewed in the industry. Will you gain some street-cred by releasing it as open-source after your initial advantage is becoming less relevant? Perhaps there is an option to open-source the code after it's been in the wild for some time, and the company has new and better secrets to push their latest products?
        • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:45PM (#38339292) Homepage

          I think it might depend on how the company is viewed in the industry. Will you gain some street-cred by releasing it as open-source

          I can't think of a single industry where you'd gain useful 'street cred' by releasing your code as open source.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            I think he should keep the secret sauce locked up because its a big part of his competative advantage. But there are lots of places where opening your code is way more valuable than keeping some commodity software behind a paywall. Say, for instance, the money in his industry was in getting people on board with your platform, buying your haardware. assuming its a technically capable field, then you'd lose little and gain a lot by opening the companion software.
            • by rtb61 (674572) on Monday December 12, 2011 @06:32AM (#38341536) Homepage

              The real question here is whether your secret sauce is actually secret or whether anyone is who is interested and capable can reproduce your secret sauce.

              So keeping it secret unless you can patent the product provides you nothing except an minor possible effort gain upon your competitors. Competitors who only need to expend the effort to match the outcome.

              Technically what you can do is not open source the code but publish it under copyright and achieve copyright protection on that code. Of course every other closed source company can simply cheat and steal that code keeping their code secret, which the already of course do with open source code.

              Reality, don't count your chickens before they hatch, you product might have a better algorithm but lack in every other area, marketing, production, distribution, price competitiveness and lose. So you might consider what works out best for the people involved, would open sourced code work out as a good fall back for employment, market the people not the company.

          • by ETEQ (519425)

            Google and Facebook certainly get extra developer buy-on for open sourcing some things. Or perhaps more accurately, for adding to existing open source initiatives.

            Also: github! I think they probably get an advantage from open sourcing some of their stuff (although it's not all open)... After all, they're the premier open source hosting site.

          • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:52PM (#38339662)

            I think it really depends on how new the industry is. For example, in the robotics industry, Willow Garage open sourced the software they use to run their PR2 robot. The end result is that pretty much every robotics lab in the country is using their software... maybe even some of their competitors. Now, what does this mean for their bottom line? I'm not sure. But it does mean that more and more people are adopting their platform, and perhaps these labs will be buying a couple PR2 robots (at $500,000 a pop) sometime in the future. But Willow Garage can afford to do this because 1) robotics is a new industry and there are no monolithic players yet and 2) there are no stadards they have to dethrone. Might as well make your own software the defacto standard in that case.

            So in that sense, if your customer base is small, and open sourcing will make your cusomter base want to use your product over a competitor who has closed source code, then it seems like a good idea to open source. If you're not targeting people who appreciate open source code (say, if you make accounting software or something) then there really is no compelling reason to.

            • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:42PM (#38339952) Journal

              I think the key here is the question of what is it you plan to sell. If you plan to sell the software.. opening up the source would probably be counter-productive. If you plan to sell a solution, of which the software is a part.. then, you might have some advantage.

              Red hat, for instance, does not sell operating systems. They sell support. Indeed, most of the software they ship isn't even theirs, but by going open source, they have the license to ship it all together and support the whole package.

              • I see that point. Are they selling "turn key" motion capture, or set-up and support to other companies?

                If they are selling a "turn key" hardware and software system, directly to movie makers, they are not selling to a group that will open the guts anyway. open source might not matter, or might get younger crews to get your hardware kit.

                On the other hand, if you are selling setup and support FOR your package, opening more of the code might be a good deal. What are the parts of the program your customers woul

            • by story645 (1278106) <story645@gmail.com> on Monday December 12, 2011 @02:11AM (#38340856) Journal

              Willow Garage open sourced the software they use to run their PR2 robot

              I think Willow Garage almost had to because they were using lots of open source tools in the first place. ROS is based on playerstage, which is GPL, and a lot of the heavy computer vision stuff is OpenCv, which itself was originally open-sourced by Intel. And the deal with everyone using ROS had a lot to do with development shifting from playerstage to ROS 'cause they were similar but ROS was saner, so they became the standard in large part 'cause they improved on the existing open source standard rather then trying to create some kind of large scale shift in the community. Plus, Willow Garage is as much experimental lab as company, so I don't know if it works as a good case study 'cause it sort of has a weird mix of end goals.

              Willow Garage also gained a lot of cred by taking over OpenCV from intel and actively maintaining it, which isn't something a fledgling company can do but is worth considering. They adopted the library 'cause it was critical to their business and considered something of a standard in the vision community, which meant a lot of people were already using it, so it was popular enough that maintaining it was seen as a good thing.

          • by rev0lt (1950662) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:39PM (#38339918)
            Sun did it (OpenOffice, Java, OpenSolaris to name a few), IBM did it (JFS? NUMA?), MySQL Did it, Zend did it, RedHat did it, Yahoo did it (Hadoop), Google did it (Hbase) and probably many more. The question is - is the business model based solely on the product, or on related services?
          • by Jason Earl (1894) on Monday December 12, 2011 @12:43AM (#38340512) Homepage Journal

            There is a little company called Red Hat, perhaps you have heard of them. Their competitors have had a distinct habit of taking their Free Software and adding a few pieces of proprietary code. These additions generally made the competition nicer to use than Red Hat, but for whatever reason the competitors never were able to gain any significant market share.

            Caldera, SuSE, Novell, and most recently Oracle have all taken a crack at Red Hat using software that was largely based on Red Hat's own distribution. So far this strategy has produced nothing but failure.

      • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:47PM (#38338984)

        Well but that's kind of a binary response. I think a hybrid approach serves the motion picture industry best.

        *Keep your secret sauce secret!*
        If you've developed something new and novel then open source isn't going to improve it you're just giving away the labors of your intellect. There is absolutely not benefit from giving away your recipe for success.

        *Open source the rest!*
        Your secret sauce if it's a mo-cap algorithm can return the tracking/skeletal data without giving away how you derived it from the RAW data. Make all of the translators, interfaces and UI open source. This is how most vfx studios prefer to receive their tools since they will inevitably want to customize it and work it into their pipeline.

        If it's something that's been done 1,000 times and nobody does it better or worse then you only benefit from getting the community to help create your product. The community is great at uncreative and uninspired work. The community is not going to improve your novel motion capture algorithm.

        • by Evil Pete (73279) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:12PM (#38339422) Homepage

          Agree. Open source an API to use your hidden stuff. Someone will eventually reverse engineer your algorithms but hopefully by then you will have got past the survival stage and have progressed your work further.

        • by skids (119237)

          Pretty close to how I see it: embargo the code that is likely to require too highly specialized skills to benefit from the open source community. If you are constantly improving this code, occasionally release the code from older revisions such that your "secret sauce" is always better than what you have released.

          Open source the rest, especially the APIs, ABIs and documentation for the hardware interfacing.

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Open source vs proprietary is a lot like the tragedy of the commons.

          By keeping stuff secret you benefit yourself at global expense.

          Open source is good for society as a whole, but for an individual business in cutthroat competition with scoundrels ready to cut them down by any means fair or foul, being nice will get you killed.

      • by NickFortune (613926) on Monday December 12, 2011 @03:45AM (#38341092) Homepage Journal

        The question is: How is publishing code as open source of advantage to you?

        The question is: What are you selling? Hardware or software?

        If the software is the product, then close it obviously. There's money to be had from support contracts, but that's more of a pathway for monetising an existing free software project than for setting up a new business.

        If the hardware is the product, then open the software. In doing so you effectively recruit every university doing research in the field, since they will all have tweaks and improvements. They publish their research, along with the software used (copyleft is good for that) and you either modify your own default software, or add the code to a repository for special purpose software. Your code is continuously improved and supports an increasingly wide range of applications.

        Your competitor can adapt the results to their product as well, of course, but first of all they've got to port it. Meanwhile the number of applications for your sensor with custom software from third parties is going to grow and grow...

        ... probably. I don't want to sound too dogmatic when I only have a sketchy outline of the situation. But that's the way I'd look at it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by LucidBeast (601749)
      I don't know if it is that straight forward. I wouldn't recommend open sourcing your first round of code if it is the core of your business, but then again you should have copyright to your own code and if you are clever enough it gives you street cred when you try to sell the stuff. Competition is usually busy trying to figure out their own problems and if they copy from you, you can use it in your marketing and perhaps in future lawsuits. It's pretty rare that you've actually invented something really new
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by telekon (185072)

      You know, way back when /. was awesome, this wouldn't have even been a debate. God damn, I miss the late '90's.

    • by khipu (2511498) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:38PM (#38338908)

      Note that he said he is in the hardware business; the software is just something extra.

      I suspect that if they aren't competitive on the hardware, a few extra bits of binary-only software won't help. If other people manage to make better hardware at the same or lower price, they'll figure out how to make better software as well.

    • I think that is the best move. When you are profitable, then you can open source your stuff. Don't give the key to the candy store away.
    • by ETEQ (519425) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:09PM (#38339414)

      Frankly, if you have to ask this question you aren't really serious about succeeding.

      I was with you right up until this bit. The arrogant presumption just drips off these words.

    • Regardless of what you do, don't be surprised if the patent trolls come a trolling. You invented the algorithms, but are you sure that they have not been "invented" before?
      Not used, mind you. Just patented. If that's the case then open source/closed source doesn't really matter. Who's your competition, and how much money do they have? Actually that may be the most important question as you can be in the right but lose all day long......

    • by stephanruby (542433) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:16PM (#38339792)

      How far would Google have progressed if they had open sourced their search engine ten minutes after they had it working?

      That's a silly question.

      A code base is not some static artifact. It's a living and evolving part of a larger system. It can not be replicated, just by taking the code. It needs the people behind the code too at the very least.

      And by the way, Google did publish their secret sauce in an academic research paper, not that this helped their competitors much.
         

    • Your code is trivial to reverse engineer; binary code doesn't hide trade secrets. Look up the IDA Pro book on No Starch Press, then have at it on some code out there. One book. A month and a half. Learn to use the online debugger to bypass anti-debugging facilities (yes, I said that) and disassembly traps.

      What you want is called a "patent."

  • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:58PM (#38338636)
    Your company is just starting up and probably isn't established in the industry. Giving away everything you have done better than your competitors is not going to end well. Remember that they are already established in the industry, and way more known than you. You're already at disadvantage there. Don't give away the one thing you have - technological advantage.

    Since you work in a very specific industry and not with something that has everyday uses for everyone or at least lots of people, open sourcing your code won't spark interest in your company or get you a community that helps you develop it. Less specialized software already doesn't get contributors, and if they do, it takes insane amount of time to look over the contributions. You work in a very niche industry - you won't get either one of these, but instead you will give away whatever advantage you have.

    Now is not a good time to open source it. Maybe later if you grow to a large company, but not now. You will probably see most comments suggesting open sourcing it, but they are only saying so because of the community of slashdot. They aren't thinking it in business sense.
    • by jd (1658)

      As Red Hat noted when they first IPOed, slashing the value of a market has a big impact on where the eyes are and where the competition is.

      Agreed, giving away everything is probably not the wisest move but you won't ever catch up with competitors by pacing yourself to them and following in their footsteps. You've got to do something different. Ideally, the solution is to be radical enough to change the very direction being raced in. It's far easier and quicker to define who is in the lead than it is to catc

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:01PM (#38338650)

    Tom Preston-Werner from GitHub recently posted his take on this question:

    http://tom.preston-werner.com/2011/11/22/open-source-everything.html

    The tl;dr version of it -- open source everything except what is intrinsic to your core business value. My personal take is that if you can't beat your competitors with a mostly open book, you won't beat them with a closed book either. Hire the best people you can find, be thoughtful about your product, and hope for a bit of luck.

    • Your logic is flawed because if you have something that is vital to your ability to remain competitive, then opening your innovation books is to shoot yourself in the foot. Especially when as a young company, you don't have the awesome capital reserves of the Googles and Apples of the world. A giant software machine like Google, could easily come over like a tidal wave! On the hardware side, take a giant that has almost unlimited cash reserves and just goes to China to manufacture under really gorgeous t
    • by hackstraw (262471) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:44PM (#38338956)

      I'll chime in and say that if open source isn't a core part of your business plan, then why expend the time and money making your project open source? It costs you more to open source something than keeping the code to yourself _unless_ you have something compelling enough that people will want to help you with the code, which is very unlikely. Keep in mind that you can open source the code at any time, so the question is what is it compelling to you now to have it open source?

    • And just why am I supposed to take the advice of guy who runs a minor website and provides an obscure software tool?

  • by durdur (252098) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:09PM (#38338710)

    There are a few. Red Hat is a good sized company. Springsource had a reasonable-sized business (tens of millions in revenue) before being acquired by VMwware. mySQL was similar in revenue, and got acquired for crazy money by Sun. There's SugarCRM [sugarcrm.com]. But in general .. most of the really valuable companies have really valuable software they keep under lock and key.

    • You can make money, you just need large volumes of business on a smaller margin. SugarCRM is probably not wildly profitable but does well.
      • by jimicus (737525)

        You can make money, you just need large volumes of business on a smaller margin.

        This is entirely true, but it's damn difficult to service large volumes of business when you're just starting up.

    • by jrumney (197329)
      The same applies to closed source startups. A few make it big. Most close down within 3 years.
      • by durdur (252098) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:56PM (#38339032)

        Yeah, but those who make it mega-big (Facebook, Google, Oracle, IBM ..) all have their "crown jewels" close sourced. There is no equivalent monster company that is exclusively open source.

    • A lot of hardware companies have the source code to their *nix drivers available to download. A lot of other things are internal tools from places that don't sell software as their core business. Of course the biggest example is Google who have advertising as their core business.
      If it's hard to make any money with it as closed source software the answer is simple in purely practical terms.
  • by engineerErrant (759650) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:12PM (#38338742)

    Focus, focus, focus on getting that product out the door; that alone will take everything you've got. Open-sourcing involves managing a team of people who are distributed in geography and in time zones, and may not care about the mission of your business. It's way more headache than you need right now; I'd definitely not try to add that to your already-full plate.

    Open-sourcing isn't really a marketing tool. Once you have a harem of happy customers, they will provide all the buzz you need, and then if you're profitable, you might have some breathing room to think about helping society.

    • by micheas (231635)

      I don't know, if the sensors would be useful in Android powered devices releasing the drivers under the GPL might be a selling point to the hardware vendors.

      It might even make it worth using your sensors over other ones even if your competitors do not have easy to maintain drivers.

      If you are in the mobile space of course your big need is patents and patent lawyers, as the nukes have gone off in that space so everything is eventually going to have an injunction against it.

      If your sensors are not going

  • by gillbates (106458) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:15PM (#38338776) Homepage Journal

    Provided that you're selling something else. The reason we open source things is to give something back to the community; it helps us get our jobs done. But we don't give away our work.

    Incidentally, I'm split on the issue. I happen to know a chip vendor that lost at least one contract because their development tools were proprietary; we instead developed with their competitor's FPGA because the tools provided were free.

    But it sounds like your expertise is not in the HW, but the SW. Consider that your competition sounds like they're expertise is not in SW, but HW. With their better expertise in HW, they could probably use your algorithms to offer a better overall solution than you can, effectively shutting you out of the market.

    • by owlstead (636356) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:09PM (#38339098)

      Yup, I quickly shut down a move to open source within our company that gave away some of the crown jewels. Within a product we used a open source library (GPL) that we would have to improve radically to be of any business value. I'm all for open source, and I will give some open source improvements back (crypto, bouncy castle) soon. But I won't help create an open source product that will harm my Christmas bonus, or even my chances of employment.

      In other words, it makes *lots* of sense to use and maintain, and even create new open source within companies (mine does too little of that). As long as that software is what makes your business worthwhile. This is of course speaking in general. If you are big enough, you can make your money around the main, open sourced product. Generally, that won't be the case for a startup (unless it is build around something that has been open sourced by someone else).

    • The successful companies that use open source aren't selling software. Red Hat is a good example. They sell service. Their software is something you can get from lots of people. You pay them for service. Or Linksys, they sell hardware. So while they might use OSS on their routers, it isn't the software you buy them for.

      Then take a look at Google, they are a mix. Android is OSS because they aren't selling software. They aren't making money on it directly, they make money on services via ads for it. Their sea

      • by zyzko (6739)

        Linksys is a bad example (and you know that they are a subsidiary of Cisco, right?) - they use OSS as much as everybody else does, ie. they bundle busybox and Linux kernel with their own closed bits (UI, etc.) - they are not an OSS company.

        And Google is in fact making money from Android - yes, they are giving the base for free but to get the Google logo and bundled software you have to pay - and a lot of manufacturers pay for that.

        Success stories would include also MySQL, they really made it profitable with

  • Don't (Score:4, Funny)

    by M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:21PM (#38338808)
    Open source is only acceptable when it's other peoples work!
  • Is it worth it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverflowingBitBucket (464177) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:21PM (#38338810) Homepage Journal

    Consider:

    - Is your product something that hobby developers might take an interest in? Will their contributions add value to your codebase or company? Will they want to contribute?

    - Is your product something other companies might find useful if they took it, added a feature, and contributed it back to you? Will they have any incentive to send anything back to you?

    - Do you have anything that you can subsequently sell to the people using your open code, that they are going to want to buy, that a competitor can't quickly spring up and take the opportunity from you?

    - Could opening the code allow you to steal away a significant part of the market, that you can later sell products or services to, for a net profit? Is this likely?

    And weigh this up against:

    - You've given away the code. Is there anything left to sell, and will people want to buy it?

    - Would your company survive if someone saw the code, thought it was a good idea, and put double the number of developers on it and told them: "make something like this"? Assume they will use your code as a reference, but no proof of it will ever be found.

    - A company with an international presence steals your code, builds it into their product, and sells it. Do you either have the resources to fight a huge multinational (possibly hiding behind a subsidiary in a different country), and the ability to survive for a few years whilst it works its way through the courts, as well as fight off baseless countersuits? Or is your product such that your company will survive, even if it is being ripped off, possibly even benefiting from the exposure?

    • Re:Is it worth it? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:03PM (#38339070) Homepage

      There's actually one more point to consider along this line. When facing a well funded competitor, one thing that can happen is them patenting some aspect to what they do, one that is obvious and necessary for any similar design to function. One way you can block this is by releasing your version as open-source, serving as an undeniable bit of prior art. Killing competitors with patents is now the area unfair tech business competition is fighting hardest at. One reason I push out almost everything I do to the world is to keep someone else from patenting the ideas I come up with.

      Even if your competitors do then take that idea and steal it, it's possible to make money from the fact that your version is always months ahead in innovations. It's easier for someone who is actively inventing ideas to keep the flow of research moving forward, compared to someone that who just copied a subset of their ideas.

      • > Even if your competitors do then take that idea and steal it, it's possible to make money from the fact that your version is always months ahead in innovations. It's easier for someone who is actively inventing ideas to keep the flow of research moving forward, compared to someone that who just copied a subset of their ideas.

        This is a very good point. If the product is such that you can keep improving it, and keep those improvements in the eyes of your customers, then anyone cloning the product will be

        • and keep those improvements in the eyes of your customers, then anyone cloning the product will be seen as just playing catchup.

          If the cloner comes with a name like IBM, Google, MicroSoft or HP, they can be 3 years behind and still get the contract... nobody ever got fired for choosing ________.

          • > If the cloner comes with a name like IBM, Google, MicroSoft or HP, they can be 3 years behind and still get the contract... nobody ever got fired for choosing ________.

            If one of the big players starts intruding into your market, you've probably got a real, business-killing problem to deal with, unless you can satisfy a need that they can not or will not satisfy themselves.

            But then again, sometimes they come bearing money instead, since they want the product, but don't want to develop it from scratch.

  • by DF5JT (589002) <slashdot@bloatware.de> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:25PM (#38338838) Homepage
    Since I work as sales director for an Open Source company, you will know my answer.

    Tell your partner, that not only will you keep your technological advantage, but you will always be one step ahead of any competition if you work with a community. Be a leader for that community. Provide an infrastructure that makes communication easy among contributors. Inspire them by giving directions and accept input at the same time. Tell the community about your goals, let them be part of the story, inspire them to contribute and make yourself a desirable target for talent.

    What you need is a clear focus on your business model. As an Open Source company you will market your know how, your unique expertise and tell everyone that you and only know are the ones to support a customers into the deepest abysses of technical problems. Find partners and share your expertise. Identify key contributors to the project and hire them. Be the experts in your field of knowledge and make yourself independent from a product that others can copy. Develop a business case, a sales pitch that potential customers will easily understand and identify as something that will bring a distinct advantage to their business by using your product.

    One last thing: You will have lots more fun building an OSS company than going the closed way. You will be part of a community, you will lead it and you will continuously get input from intelligent people, input that otherwise will cost you dearly when hiring external consultants.
    • One last thing: You will have lots more fun building an OSS company than going the closed way. You will be part of a community, you will lead it and you will continuously get input from intelligent people, input that otherwise will cost you dearly when hiring external consultants.

      In some cases, yes. In other cases, that fun, global, loosely organized community contains a bunch of bickering, fickle, egomaniacal children - YMMV. I have seen tighter, faster, better community building around a daily lunch trip than I ever have across e-mail and message boards.

    • by tomhudson (43916)
      ... And that's why everyone uses Linux on the desktop, instead of Windows or OSX.

      You have a serious problem when 15 years later people will still PAY to avoid using your free software.

      Look at the Apple App Store. Developers are cashing in to the tune of a $BILLION a MONTH. Do you see them open-sourcing their apps to "generate buzz" or "get crowd-sourced support"?

  • by decora (1710862) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:26PM (#38338844) Journal

    dont see why you wouldn't. all those companies are doing very well.

  • by zAPPzAPP (1207370) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:30PM (#38338870)

    What do you expect from making those specialized algorithms open source?
    Usually, you would go open source if you want someone to work with and improve upon the things you have.
    You could open source ways to implement your sensors into applications, an open source library that implements things you can do with them for example.
    A good, open library that I know I can alter to suit my needs, is something I look for when choosing hardware, such as ICs.
    Or even hardware specs that would allow people to find new purposes for them. If you do that, you might get useful things in return and attract developers to work with your sensors.

    In this case, you I would say, you should keep your sensors as a black box and let people use them as such. Then open source everything around that, that eases the use of them.

  • Heh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rapidreload (2476516) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:34PM (#38338894)

    Despite Richard Stallman's objections if he heard the same question*, open-source is not going to help in any way here. Your technology is what's known as a "trade secret", and would be the basis for whatever revenue your company makes. Giving out the algorithms to your competitors would be corporate suicide, and gain absolutely nothing except a reputation for being a total idiot.

    Google open-sources things that it can afford to have open sourced, because it's to their benefit in various, interrelated ways. They're in the business of information after all, and whatever avenues they can make in obtaining said information are all the better.

    * His first objection of course would be to first clarify the difference between free and open-source software, which I'm aware of but don't see the relevance in this particular case.

    • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stinerman (812158) <nathan...stine@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:20PM (#38339150) Homepage

      The difference is very relevant here. Stallman believes that developing closed source software is morally wrong, much the same way that some folks believe abortion is morally wrong. The Open Source "movement" believes that opening the source leads to technically superior software. Linus open-sourced Linux because he thought it would be more useful that way, not because he thought that he was doing something morally right.

      The OP here apparently came to an agreement with his partner that they not open source the good parts of the code. His question about it being "wrong" to open source the "good stuff" seems to come from a moral perspective. From a moral perspective, I think he's on fine ground. If he's worrying about making the most money, it depends on what he considers his company to be. Are they are hardware shop first and a software shop second or is it the other way around? If it's the former, open source it all. If it's the latter, he should close everything up if money is the only issue at hand.

  • by khipu (2511498) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:35PM (#38338902)

    For many of your customers, closed source (i.e., binary or restrictive source license) may simply not work, for example because they are at a university (and can't guarantee that the source code won't leak out), or because they need to run the software on specialized hardware that you can't provide binaries for. Your advantage may also not be as big as you think, so open sourcing the software may not matter much, and other people may provide you with useful input and improvements. So, I think you should seriously consider open sourcing the software. You could make it a dual license (GPL + proprietary).

    The best choice would be if you could incorporate those algorithms into your hardware. Can you add a small DSP do the hardware? That doesn't just protect your code, it actually may also make your hardware easier to use (fewer software dependencies). On the other hand, that way, you won't get any improvement from the community.

  • Patent it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:38PM (#38338916) Journal

    You have a third option here: patent the special purpose algorithms, then open source it under a license that does not include a patent grant. This way, your value-generating asset is protected, but your users still get some benefits of OSS - the ability to tinker with the code and adapt them to their needs, and knowledge that they can support it themselves in long term if need be.

    If you want, you can also add an explicit patent grant for open source applications only (e.g. only for GPL v2 and v3). That way you get FOSS community onboard, but any commercial competitors would still have to license your patents (which you could refuse outright, or at least ask a fair price) to reuse the idea.

    • by greg1104 (461138)

      The problem with this idea is that it puts a multi-year time delay into executing your business strategy fully, as well as bleeding a large pile of money towards the patent system and the lawyers around it. Patents are really only a usable defense or weapon for a company that already has lots of cash to burn. Chasing after getting them as a startup is a very low percentage bet.

      • The pile of money required to get a patent is laughably small (assuming you're more than two guys in mom's basement), the time is, however, significant.

        • by greg1104 (461138)

          The amount of money to apply for a patent is small. The amount it takes to be granted one is a lot more complicated. One of my ideas was patented by the startup employer I had at the time, Wireless burstable communications repeater [freepatentsonline.com]. Almost all the actual money involved in applying for it went to Hoffmann & Baron, LLP [hoffmanbaron.com]. If you think you're going to get a useful patent granted without an experienced patent attorney firm like that, you're being quite optimistic. I can't even imagine how much time it wo

      • They can sell it as closed source for the time being, while the patent application is pending.

        And no, it doesn't take a lot of money to get a patent.

  • If you go closed, someone else will enter the market with hardware using open source, sell it cheaper, and make money from support/contracting.

    So, do it yourself from the start.

    Support/contracting causes less overhead in your operations and less expenses. makes you more versatile.

    Closed on the other hand requires continually growing and monolithic corporation to provide distribution, support and aftersales care.
  • A start-up company in Japan by a foreigner? You've got a huge, huge balls. I have some friends who could never get theirs off the ground. Best of luck to you. Japan needs a lot more entrepreneurial spirit.
  • by cstdenis (1118589) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:15PM (#38339126)

    Put the algorithm in the hardware if you can, then you can publish the library open source without any risks.

    There is also the question of whether closed source will even protect the algorithm. Binaries can be disassembled and reverse engineered, so closing source just makes thing more difficult if it's something as simple as an algorithm you are trying to protect.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:23PM (#38339158)

    I've done plenty of startup software development - we tend to use open tools and LGPL libraries, staying away from the pure GPL stuff because of the shades of green that the investors turn when they hear that they don't own secrets in the code.

  • You run a business and not a charity. I would even go a step farther and say it is immoral and unethical if investor money paid for it. It is not yours but the company's.

    It is a good deed and we would appreciate your contribution. However, your bank doest care nor your landlord or your car dealership. If I see your name and decide to use your software to drive away sales from all the hard work you have done then how is that fair? RMS is an idiot as your users will not pay you rent by purchasing support.

    But

  • Open the source if any of the cases apply:

    - Your code is infrastructure and your value is in the service you provide: Open sourcing in this case allows to form a community around your infrastructure and soften the burden of having to maintain it all by yourself.
    - The code is already open-source and you provide consultancy services: Your main revenue comes from maintenance and deployment contracts, open sourcing increases your client base.
    - You're creating a new market: if the market is completely new then o

  • If you go open (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And your competitors use your code (if it's not BSD or something similar), you've then forced them into being open, too.

  • by sk999 (846068) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:06PM (#38339390)

    You won't build any community among your customers if they feel locked out of key pieces of the product. If anything, they will be resentful. Jon Oosterhout tried it with TCL (Scriptics). Ransom Love tried it with OpenLinux (Caldera). Both failed.

    You have already build your software on top of openMAT. If you want to be a closed-source company, then do the right thing - dump openMAT, and write your own replacement.

    For what it's worth, in my opinion people are overly obsessed with the importance of protecting their precious "IP". You are not that smart. Any "edge" it gives you will only last a short time. It is more important that the products that you make do what you say they will do, that they are delivered on schedule, that they are reliable, that they are properly documented, and that you are available to stand behind them.

  • by emt377 (610337) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:15PM (#38340102)
    If it's a cost center, open source it. It may offset the cost slightly. If it's a profit center, hold it to your chest.
  • by devent (1627873) on Monday December 12, 2011 @01:16AM (#38340638) Homepage

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I for my self wouldn't even consider using a closed source toolkit.
    For a company it would be quite crazy to tie ones core business to another company's code.
    If you don't really do anything really novel, and you already say that they are competitors, you could have an advantage if your offer your software as open source.

    Either you give away the source code for free, or the source code is part of the license. In the first case it's free advertisement and in the latter it's a bonus that you have against your competitors.

    Also, if you think your algorithms are novel, it's not an easy task to use algorithms in a completely different product.

    I'm not quite sure, but if you release your code as GPL, wouldn't the competitor need to release their code as GPL, too, if they are using your algorithms?

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