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

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the better-like-this-or-better-like-this dept.

Businesses 325

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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No need to help your competitors (5, Insightful)

Calibax (151875) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Important point (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338704)

Do you want the kind of culture where people stain the couches with take out chinese food and eat parts of their feet, yet write great code? And use free code? Then open sources is for you. Emacs is crazy, but it is great.

Re:No need to help your competitors (5, Insightful)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:No need to help your competitors (5, Insightful)

spyder-implee (864295) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:No need to help your competitors (5, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339292)

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:No need to help your competitors (4, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:No need to help your competitors (1, Redundant)

LucidBeast (601749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338712)

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 and if you have I guess patenting would be to way to protect that. If you want to drum up publicity I doubt going open source is going to do that in your prospective customers.

Re:No need to help your competitors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338850)

Copyright sucks. If the competition is closed source you can't be certain they have stolen your code for their product. Yes, you can sue them and pay lawyers a great deal of money and get to look at their code during discovery. But the money you get from copyright infringement probably won't make up for the sales you lost by giving up all your advantages. And you have to have the money to sue them in the first place, and most startups don't have that commodity lying around.

Better not to disclose your code in the first place and make the competition work at figuring out why your product is better than theirs. No need to tell them.

Re:No need to help your competitors (0, Troll)

vaccum pony (721932) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338752)

>Frankly, if you have to ask this question you aren't really serious about succeeding. Yep, 'cause the only way to win to make someone else lose.

Re:No need to help your competitors (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338798)

Ummm.... yes. Completely correct. You don't win if your competitors don't lose.

How hard is that to understand?

Re:No need to help your competitors (2)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338812)

Well, yeah, that's exactly how it works. Sorry to shatter the illusion of harmony.

Re:No need to help your competitors (1, Flamebait)

rapidreload (2476516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338846)

No shit. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, if you've ever had to fight to get something. Jesus it's amazing how naive some people are. Oh wait... this is Slashdot.

Re:No need to help your competitors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338922)

Jesus it's amazing how naive some people are. Oh wait... this is Slashdot.

http://xkcd.com/610/ [xkcd.com]

Re:No need to help your competitors (3, Insightful)

vaccum pony (721932) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339040)

Actually what I was trying to point out is that success does not have to be measured against how you compete against someone else or how much money beyond what the company needs you end up with. It's not a dog-eat-dog world. The world is just what we make of it.

Re:No need to help your competitors (1)

rapidreload (2476516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339300)

It's not a dog-eat-dog world. The world is just what we make of it.

Unfortunately it's not always in our power to change the world in order to make it more like what we'd want. The most we can do is better ourselves, but when you're running a business you're probably going to find certain aspects of it go against the idealism of one's youth. The world isn't going to make succeeding in business easier if you try to stick to an unhealthy level of idealism - you'll just end up either failing or remaining small fry and stagnant (basically just delaying the inevitable). If I stick to my idealism and fail in my business as my more aggressive competitors step over me, then what the hell did I achieve?

I wish it weren't so cut-throat in business, but to ignore the fact that it IS and hence requires the same approach to stay alive, is tantamount to suicide.

Re:No need to help your competitors (1, Interesting)

telekon (185072) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338876)

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

Re:No need to help your competitors (4, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339288)

Are you trying to suggest that those of us that were here in the 90s wouldn't tell him to keep the secret sauce secret?

If so, I am here to tell you that you're wrong.

Re:No need to help your competitors (4, Insightful)

khipu (2511498) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:No need to help your competitors (2)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338910)

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.

Re:No need to help your competitors (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338962)

I think your last remark is a little harsh, but the rest of your sentiment is basically correct.

Open sourcing is a high risk strategy for a startup, and it is unlikely to yield the benefits that you would normally receive from open-sourcing (eg crowd-sourced bug fixes). You need market share before you will get those benefits, and you won't get market share if your differentiator is freely available to the competition.

Having said all that, there is a good argument in favour of declaring your intentions. For example, state that you are planning to go closed source for 2 years, and then releasing the source-code on a '12 months behind' basis. It generates good will with the customer base, and shows that you have intentions the extend beyond the initial honeymoon period.

Good luck with it!

Your partner has a point (5, Insightful)

InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Open Source (Almost) Everything (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338796)

from the fine summary:

We have some special purpose algorithms that we developed ourselves and that are better than our competitor's technology.

Sounds like they have code that is intrinsic to their core business value.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338952)

But algorithms can't be patented, and the competition will have them shortly.

Plan the business model around the hardware, the first sentence did say:
   

I am starting up a company in Japan that develops sensors used in motion capture.

Embed the algorithms into the sensor if possible, but in any case make sure your sensors are better than the competition.

Hardware can be patented, and the software can be opensource. If someone else makes better software (and you get tired of the arms race)
you can fall back to selling just the hardware and actually service your competition with smarter better sensors.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (2)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338934)

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 terms due to previous business.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338942)

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.

What a shockingly naive view. If your competitor is closed source and you are open source, they win valuable time to market by just copying your code wholesale and adding it to their product while you get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing your code is being used.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (2)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339308)

No. You've got it backwards. By being able to use readily available components, it's his time to market that improves while his competitors are trying to do a clean room copy of his product.

THAT is what advantage he gains from Free Software.

He has to recreate less.

You also seemed to neglect the "mostly" part.

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (3, Insightful)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:Open Source (Almost) Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338998)

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.

So you open source everything, the competition copies it and you're back to struggling.

It's bad enough that any hardware these folks develop will be reversed engineered and cloned or outright copied. Why make it easier by exposing those algorithms?

Karma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338652)

Pay it forward

Get rich (0)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338658)

Then when you're bored you can open source your code.

Your partner is correct. What you do not want is your company to live beyond you and become a deathless monster. It would be better if it went on to became a trust for the code you create and to foster it's development or other open source projects.

I dont think its wrong (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338664)

"Is it wrong for a small company to give away precious intellectual property like that"

no but its dumb

Open source can be good for a company, but it depends on what your company is doing. Is it helping a community gather knowledge and tools? or is it selling a product to people who could not give 2 shits about how it works?

It sounds like the latter.

OpenBSD Backdoored? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338670)

That depends, is OpenBSD backdoored? [kuro5hin.org]

If so, how far does the 'taint' run throughout the open source community? I recall another incident with Fedora and some suspected tampering by a possibly compromised person with a 'conflict of interest', so to speak. Of course I'm just voicing opinionated speculation here, nothing more.

Go all Closed source. (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338684)

Because nothing is more important for a Startup than spending as much money as possible. I recommend going all Microsoft so you can also enjoy the Licensing hell that most of us in corporate IT enjoy. Plus exchange server is so lightweight, you can get away with a single 12 core, 3ghz, 16gb ram and 10tb of 15,000 rpm storage. if you don't go over 100 users.

Although in truth, do NOT host your own email. pay Google for their hosted exchange or someone else. Unless you guys are doing 1990's type startups where you spend as much as possible for stupid reasons. Then hire 2 Exchange people to maintain that abortion of a email server.

Can you tell I spend 10 years supporting a corporate stall of exchange servers? Exchange and Share point are more painful to maintain than a hot poker in the eye.

Re:Go all Closed source. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338702)

The question wasn't what you think it was.

Re:Go all Closed source. (2)

Swarley (1795754) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338730)

Why is there no mod parent -1 "did not even pretend to read the question"?

Re:Go all Closed source. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338762)

That's not what he asked. Way to rant longer than the summary you apparently didn't read.

Re:Go all Closed source. (1)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338792)

Ahah i could mod this funny! no RTFA , not even RTFP. sudo funny this one

Open. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338692)

Open. But just because I like it like that. Don't know if it would make business sense for you, since I didn't read.

But if there is a service or hardware to sell, being open source could be your advantage; Free labor, guarantee against lockdown and easier customizability for customers and goodwill.

Stupid subject requirement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338694)

How about promising to release the relevant code once your company has sold a specific number of units?

You could also consider a custom license, whereby your customers gain access to the source and are free to modify it, but may not redistribute anything, including their custom changes, save for sending it upstream.

Re:Stupid subject requirement (2)

Swarley (1795754) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338760)

Enforcing that kind of license legally sounds expensive and well beyond the budget of a startup. I'd say keep it closed until the company either takes off and is secure, or crashes and burns and it doesn't matter if it's closed anymore.

Open source... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338706)

We're ready to steal your tech and take your customers.

Not a lot of open source companies making $$$ (5, Insightful)

durdur (252098) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not a lot of open source companies making $$$ (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338948)

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

Re:Not a lot of open source companies making $$$ (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338990)

The same applies to closed source startups. A few make it big. Most close down within 3 years.

Re:Not a lot of open source companies making $$$ (4, Insightful)

durdur (252098) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 give it away (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339094)

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.

Post the source (0, Troll)

Threni (635302) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338720)

And then I can sit around smoking weed and selling closed source versions of your software. You'd never know, because I'd obfuscate it.

Seriously, do it. It's the right thing to do. Moral, open, caring and sharing. All great stuff when you're trying to make a profit from people.

Re:Post the source (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338866)

And then I can sit around smoking weed and selling closed source versions of your software. You'd never know, because I'd obfuscate it.

That could be harder than you might think. If there are reasons to suspect that your software might be based on theirs (e.g. a previously unknown and small company suddenly releasing a "proprietary" product similar to an existing open source one might be a giveaway) then there may be particular patterns of behaviour peculiar to that software's engine when presented with a given input that could be used as a test (and strong evidence) that your product was a ripoff of theirs.

If they'd actually *planned* for this possibility, then they may be able to make this more overt when their chosen input was given, while not displaying in normal use (and not being obvious from reading the code either!)

Focus on the business. That's hard enough. (5, Insightful)

engineerErrant (759650) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Open source is for fags, mmkay? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338766)

Dirty bird faggots.

Open source is good... (4, Insightful)

gillbates (106458) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338776)

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.

Re:Open source is good... (4, Informative)

owlstead (636356) | more than 2 years ago | (#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).

Just look at the successful ones (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339234)

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 search engine though? Closed and highly proprietary.

Most people won't pay for something they can legally get for free, and you can't fault them. As such, you need to figure out what it is you are selling. If it is software, then don't give that away.

noobs perspective (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338800)

it seems that allot of successful opensource projects either come about from...
a. a failing company opensourcing its assets in a last ditch spite of what every company screwed them over (netscape spawning what would become firefox for example)
b. a non-commercial programming hobby that snowballs into something huge (the linux kernel for example)
c.a successful company outsourcing something obsolete and already milked for all its worth as a publicity stunt (what id software(the makers of doom and quake) seems to do with all their old game engines for example)

projects that try and force opensource fame don't wind up as well recognized as they would like (gnu is a good example)

probably best to keep your most valuable asset under raps for now the community (if there would be any) won't mind that much as long as stay friendly(dwarf fortress is a good example of this)

Don't (4, Funny)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338808)

Open source is only acceptable when it's other peoples work!

Is it worth it? (5, Insightful)

OverflowingBitBucket (464177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338810)

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? (3, Insightful)

greg1104 (461138) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339070)

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.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

OverflowingBitBucket (464177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339134)

> 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 seen as just playing catchup. It then becomes hard for them to compete on anything but price, which is hard to do if they're hiring double the number of developers as well. Heck, open sourcing your last version and charging for your most recent one would probably be one way to keep clone-based competitors from even *starting* to nip at your heels. I'd say there are probably lots of ways of playing it, depending on the type of product, and the potential benefits of opening some or all of the source in those circumstances.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339238)

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 ________.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

OverflowingBitBucket (464177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339304)

> 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.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

ulricr (2486278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339198)

well they make hardware (motion capture sensors) for a niche market. So it's not terribly likely that their code being stolen will be a big issue, I think. It's a tiny market with few players. In fact, having the code open might make their hardware easier to integrate for some clients with custom solutions, or at least feel safe about it.

Figure out where your (monetizable) added value is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338830)

What is your secret sauce? You don't give that away. If it's, say, in the hardware or in the services, then opening source might help more than it might hurt. If however it's the improved algorithms that's really what's making your kit more attractive than the competition's, then it doesn't do to give away that in the name of open source; it means giving away valuable competetive advantage. What, really, is it that's going to spin your company money then?

Open for PR, closed for VC (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338834)

I worked for a web startup which used the "Open Source the main product" approach. Quite a few employees were picked up from their open source contributions, so it was a great way of attracting talent to an early-stage project.

Of course then they made everyone sign copyright assignment agreements and significantly diverged the closed portion of the product so its not REALLY open source now. A shame, still if you have a product you really need to sell to venture capitalists they really like it when all the IP rights are solid.

Re:Open for PR, closed for VC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339220)

vyatta?

The business power of Know How (4, Insightful)

DF5JT (589002) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338838)

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.

Re:The business power of Know How (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339178)

And how many businesses have you started from scratch?

Re:The business power of Know How (2)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339218)

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.

Open source what you can? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338842)

Since your IP is your only competitive advantage I wouldn't just give it away. What you could do though is modularize your engine with a plugin architecture, writing plugins containing your IP. You can then open-source the engine so everybody could use it, but your own plugin with your IP remains closed-source.

worked for Sun, Netscape, and HP (2)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338844)

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

Re:worked for Sun, Netscape, and HP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338994)

Are you suggesting that they aren't?

The products Sun developed are still very important and widely used, even if they're labeled as Oracle products now. You obviously don't work in the financial sector if you think that Solaris and Java are irrelevant or "dead" in any way.

The same goes for Netscape. They're called Mozilla Corporation now, but their technology is still very much alive and quite popular. Firefox is still the second-most popular browser, behind IE. They pull in some good revenue, too. Go do some research.

HP is still doing quite well. Their products and services are used all over the place. I'm sure you'll trumpet on about WebOS and that tablet they canceled. Both are mighty irrelevant in the big picture. It makes perfect sense why HP got out of the tablet market; it's merely a fad and it's a fad that's coming to an end.

I'm not really sure what point you're trying to make. The companies you mention are indeed doing extremely well these days, especially given the horrid state of the American and European economies.

Re:worked for Sun, Netscape, and HP (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339192)

It makes perfect sense why HP got out of the tablet market; it's merely a fad and it's a fad that's coming to an end.

So, I guess that's why they just open sourced WebOS?

Depends on who you're marketing to. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338854)

If your end product is to end users then I wouldn't open source it. Keep in mind moving a product all the way to an end user (read idiot user) is expensive on a lot of levels. If your product is to be used by the community to develop new products then having access to that code base is a deciding factor on what they will decide to use.

A lawyer is a good choice here. If you post a question like this to slashdot you're only going to hear the two extremes. Open source Nothing and Open source Everything. QT's original design of permitting non commercial users to develop to their hearts content and commercial user's to purchase a license maybe a good route while you're getting started.

Why open? (2)

zAPPzAPP (1207370) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

rapidreload (2476516) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

stinerman (812158) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339150)

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.

Closed source is more accountable (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338896)

Look at big open source projects, notice how unusable the user interfaces are or how buggy the code is (memory leaks everywhere) because there is no accountability and they can get away with saying "fork off". When your closed and have real money on the line you have to compete better or you go out of business.

Like it or not, billion dollar enterprises are closed for a reason and why open source users are stuck in their mom's basement.

Re:Closed source is more accountable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339114)

Clearly all the Linux Servers all around the world are closed in someone's mom's basement... right?

what do your customers need? (3, Interesting)

khipu (2511498) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338916)

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.

Re:Patent it (1)

greg1104 (461138) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339086)

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.

Re:Patent it (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339180)

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.

Re:Patent it (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339282)

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.

Wait a while ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338932)

Until you make enough money to secure your future then open source it.

Like others said, someone else with more capital could take whatever technology you have and beat you with a better product.

Besides, whatever code you open source, another company could copy it and keep their code obfuscate. You won't be able to sue them since you don't have enough funds and they have a lot of it to fight you back.

Dont sweat it. (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338938)

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.

Start-Up in Japan? (2)

RabidNelson (2488360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38338964)

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.

What would it cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38338988)

in development costs and production tooling costs for a potential competitor to field a competing product based on your source code?

What added value would you be providing a customer that might be tempted by the lower cost of the competing product?

Can you provide an open source product with algorithms less effective than yours and offer the "upgraded" version as proprietary? Would enough people buy the improved version or is good enough enough to erode the potential number of customers significantly?

Closed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339062)

Have you forgotten what capitalism is about? It's about maximizing profit by making everyone else suffer.

Re:Closed (1)

Dan541 (1032000) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339162)

Have you forgotten what capitalism is about? It's about maximizing profit by making everyone else suffer.

Moron, kindly click this link http://skep.li/slashout [skep.li] and don't come back. Thankyou.

Go Open (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339106)

Open source it with a viral license like the GPL.. when/if your competitors steal your algorithm you can sue them for infringement. Also, even though you can't get a patent for an algorithm, try to get a patent or two that are somehow related to what you have as a technical advantage to further protect you. It's a win-win. You'll either make money by being an awesome company that works well with its customers or you'll make money by suing the pants off people while you sit at home playing PS3.
 
/jaded, I know

compromise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339122)

release the code as free for non commercial use only. now the community can use it but competeing companies can't.

Put it in the hardware (4, Insightful)

cstdenis (1118589) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Ask Greenpeace: Nuclear or Solar (4, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Why ask slashdot? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339200)

The /. community is full of nerds who blow a load every time 'open source' is mentioned.

keep it closed (2)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339204)

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 what you really ought to be worried about is copyright and GPL violation. Does storing the program in the machines ram count as distributing? Get a lawyer! If it is copyleft or has a gpl linking license you are good to go with your addons. See if you can use a BSD or MIT package that has similiar features if you cant opensource. You may have to make your own sdk from scratch but get a lawyer first. Good luck with your business!

If any of these apply: (2)

dr-alves (1612081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339224)

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 open-sourcing might raise awareness and increase your client base, but it will also help competitors (if and when they emerge and they will if you're successful); This is usually done on a freemium model, you open source the functionality to raise the client base but close "enterprise features" like scalability/high performance/fault-tolerance/configuration management.

Close your source in any other case and if your case does not fall *clearly* into any of these.

When to Open Source and When Not to... (0)

merczilla (2529462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339228)

The number one reason anyone open sources anything is to get a community to support and develop the software. The more niche or unique your idea is here the better. If your business is selling hardware you don't care if you make money on the software because that's not what you sell. You sell boxes, not applications. That will give you street cred, and make you look benevolent especially if you back port user hacks and features into your main line code base (and your resulting devices). If you are a software company you simply cannot afford to do this -- your business is selling your bytes of code and not iron. Your edge is your software, data, engineering, and the like... You cannot give these away for free if your develop software for profit... Google does NOT sell software they sell advertising, and thus can give as much away as they like -- their edge is in being a market leading ad conduit. They can give all their software away and it would barely effect their bottom line because the marketing rep is what makes the money for them. I can give all the software I want if I am predominately a marketing company; I just can't give away free marketing. :) Thus, being in the software business stinks.. as you cannot be open source in it and stay alive. Whatever you plan to develop launch your business in that field and make your software for that cause -- then it doesn't matter if you give it away... because software is not your business...Otherwise, just keep it closed.. and profit. :)

A model for you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339258)

Eclipse: http://wiki.eclipse.org/images/7/75/CDT_Talk.pdf [eclipse.org]

Eclipse is an open source IDE. Many companies that used to supply their own IDEs have converged on Eclipse. Eclipse supplies the framework and the GUI and the companies supply their proprietary bits for the versions they distribute. It works well and allows the individual companies to focus on what they do best.

If you go open (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38339262)

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

NFL jersey (1)

jersey123456 (2485408) | more than 2 years ago | (#38339286)

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