When does open-sourcing become dumping?

Recently I heard about a software vendor open-sourcing some technology that used to be part of their tool-chain. Hopefully that is general enough that you can't make out what technology and what vendor I am talking about. My intention here isn't to name and shame if only because it would be hypocritical of me to do so.

That said, I am interested in opening up the discussion around how organisations sometimes "open source" a product or technology as a way of dumping it, without actually looking like you are dumping it. Often when you ask a few questions though its clear what the intention is (no further investment).

Here are some tell-tale signs that that thing that just got open-sourced actually just got dumped:

  1. Its not a popular tool/technology in the first place.
  2. It's been put in a location not clearly associated with the previous owner.
  3. It has not established build pipeline or public roadmap.
  4. Other products and/or technologies that depend on it are dropping it.

Reading this post you might get the impression that I am against open-sourcing dead products/technologies. I'm not. If you have taken a dependency on that technology and the vendor has stopped investing in it, having access to the source code might be the lifeline you need to get unstuck - you might even decide that it is important enough for you or your organisation to invest in it.

My beef is using open source to misrepresent the intention of the owner of the technology. A product or technology that is open-sourced well will have the following hallmarks:

  1. It is clearly associated with the original owner, or a seperate organisation has been established with links to the original owner (and other sponsors).
  2. A pipeline of feature enhancements are planned and visible.
  3. An awareness campaign has been conducted explaining why the project has been open-sourced and how others can contribute.
  4. An official release has been produced from the open source project.

If you are a vendor and what you've done looks more like the top list, and less like the bottom list then you really should do your customers a favor and explain that you won't be investing in the technology moving forward and what strategies they could employ moving forward.

Forking the code-base that has been open sourced and attempting to carry it forward is always and option.