It is reasonable to assume that some form of Pay-Per-Use (PPU) is the model that will be adopted both by software vendors and by business users as the most equitable way of reimbursing the vendors for the value the business users get from their wares. It is also reasonable to assume that some form of Open Source licence model will come to prevail amongst the software vendors as a core component of such a model.
If one takes what Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems, was saying only yesterday and extrapolate it just a bit, the connection becomes quite clear. Phipps was presenting the formal announcement of Sun’s decision to move Java SE to an open source licence model, starting at the end of this year. This, he said, would be moving the point of monetisation to the point of value for the user – in other words, they pay for what they use, when they decide to start using it.
That is still some way from a micro-payment PPU model, but it is also a hell of a long way from the industry’s tradition of up-front payments for everything that can be thrown into the `package’ regardless of whether you want it or not. (Hands up all those that: a) have Microsoft Office, and: b) have never used at least one of the applications purchased, and have no plans to in future).
It won’t be a simple or direct relationship, of course. Open source is, for example, potentially more fair on the copyright holders of the code, which does not necessarily mean just companies. Individuals can be licenced code committers to a specific application code base. They are the people licenced to add functions or components to that code. Indeed, many individuals within major Open Source vendors are licenced in that way and, depending on the terms of the licence, may have a variable degree of conscious or even unconscious control over how an application or service develops. It is not unknown, I believe, for committers to have their licence to commit code revoked if they leave the employment of the company producing the product, but still retain their copyright over their contributions. That obviously means the potential for a legal mare’s nest is quite high. According to Phipps, trying to sort through just such a legal quagmire lay behind the time it has taken to get an Open Source implementation of Java SE.
So there are obviously issues to be sorted out with Open Source licencing in order to make a model that fits with PPU. But as that is the way that more businesses are heading (albeit slowly) and the way that even the most proprietarially-oriented software vendors are looking (witness Microsoft and its `talking up’ of Microsoft Live) serious changes will be demanded of current proprietary licences – changes that will inevitably move in a quasi-Open Source direction of charging at the point of `value’ (definition of which has the potential to be a legal quagmire in its own right, of course).
PPU is the payment model business managers are going to want, because it makes economic and account management sense. It will, therefore, push proprietary vendors towards licence models that increasingly mimic Open Source licences. In time, I suspect, the two sides will be so close that there will be no practical difference. Then, of course, they will hate each other even more than they do now……plus ca change…….