Deriving value from open source projects

Should open source projects only rely on other open source technology? Or, is relying on commercial technology fine, as long as it is free as in beer?

Not everybody applauded when Matt delivered the news at State of the Word 2014 that Wordpress switched to using Slack, after 11 years on a free (as in speech) IRC network.

It is very common to use commercial closed source solutions for supporting open source development. A prominent example is that many, if not most, active open source projects have their home base on Github.

The limits that constrain the use of such commercial apps in open source projects are defined by the ubiquitous “Free Plan”.

For Github, the free plan is quite liberal for open source projects, you can host unlimited repositories as long as the project has read access for everyone.

For Slack, the limits of the free plan feel more constrained. The searchable archive is limited to 10k messages (which isn’t a lot for even a moderately sized team).

But, who is to say what the free plan looks like in the future?

A commercial company has one critical feature that open source projects don’t, the company has to make enough money to be able to provide a product for free.

Neither Slack nor Github derives any money directly from their open source users.

It’s only the hope that these companies somehow derive enough value from the side-effects of providing a free plan that keeps the free plan available to open source projects.