Why Your Proprietary Software and Your Open Source Software Need Separate Brand Names

The reason Red Hat set up Fedora as a separate entity is that Red Hat was overwhelmed by tech support calls from people who had gotten free Red Hat CDs in magazines or from friends or from any one of 1000 other sources.

I remember one person who not only demanded free tech support from Red Hat, but called everyone involved with Linux whose phone number he could find, including me, since I ran the Linux.com website at the time.

“Linux is free,” he said, “so I want you to send a tech support person to my house. For free.”

Yeah, right.

By making Red Hat a commercial product company that distributed Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and sending Fedora off on its own, Red Hat became profitable. There was a little community flak at first, but it soon died down and now everybody is happy.

Also: Snort and Sourcefire. Snort is an open source, community-based project. Sourcefire is a company whose products are based on Snort. They were separate entities from day one, even though they were both started and were both originally headed by the same
person: Marty Roesch.

Even if a company plans to exploit its open source properties through support subscriptions, a la Red Hat, if it has another group of products that are 100% proprietary, it is best to keep the two brands separate, if only to keep open source community zealots from screaming about the open source software’s ties to the proprietary product(s).

I wish Oracle would figure this out. Since the Sun acquisition, an awful lot of people have been worried about the future of OpenOffice.org, MySQL, and Java. I personally would be a lot more confortable if Oracle spun these products off into separate companies — or created non-profit foundations to maintain them, the way Red Hat did so successfully with Fedora.

Like a lot of long-time open source users, I have little trust or love for Oracle.

But at the same time I am a devout user of OpenOffice.org, MySQL, and Java, and moving away from them would be time-consuming and irritating.

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