Silicon Valley’s Open Source Shift: Implications for 3D Printing

By on October 25th, 2023 in Ideas, news

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Changing thinking about Open Source may cause issues [Source: Fabbaloo / D3]

A story about open source trends might become disturbing for the 3D print world.

The story, published recently in The Stack, describes a trend emerging in Silicon Valley, the home of many open source companies. The story focuses on HashiCorp, a software company that develops tools for building and operating cloud-based infrastructure.

The company participates in open source, and they use a freemium business model as many open source companies do. However, recently there has been a change.

Some months ago the company switched the license on their software from the popular Mozilla Public License to the Business Source License (BSL). The company announced they would no longer permit use of their software for production purposes.

Why make such a dramatic change? It seems their success and growth generated severe business challenges. They apparently experienced others taking their open source tools and misrepresented it to customers who may have thought they were dealing with Hashicorp.

The reaction from the open source community was as one would expect, quite negative. Prior versions of the software, still with open source licenses, were forked and placed into a new foundation where they would continue development.

That, understandably upset Hashicorp, with their CEO Dave McJannet saying:

“What does it say for the future of open source, if foundations will just take it and give it a home. That is tragic for open source innovation. I will tell you, if that were to happen, there’ll be no more open source companies in Silicon Valley.””

The problem is that many open source projects are directly funded by a sponsor, rather than being true community systems created by a crowd. In the case of Hashicorp, they basically funded the majority of the work, but as they grew and the usage of their products increased, they felt their work was being abused.

The result was a split, and this has happened previously to many open source projects.

My thought was to consider what this might imply to the 3D print community, which by and large depends significantly on open source software, both firmware and application.

If it turns out that companies that are the prime sponsors of open source projects foresee this type of situation coming to them and their open source products in the future, we may see them take similar actions. In other words, locking out commercial users from their software.

What could that mean? Perhaps the two most visible open source projects in our space are UltiMaker Cura and PrusaSlicer, both tools primarily sponsored by 3D printer manufacturers. The progress in both of these tools has been very significant, and that’s largely due to the resources poured into them by the sponsors.

Because those tools are open source, it means that anyone can make use of them and build them up further. Individuals can and do use them extensively for use with their devices — I do so every day.

It also means that competing 3D printer manufacturers could bundle the software with their equipment. In a way, that hurts the sponsors in a direct business sense, while at the same time supporting the 3D print community and gaining reputation by doing so.

It seems to work.

However, there have been rumblings lately. Several 3D printer manufacturers have taken one of these open source slicing tools and made their own customized version of it for use with their equipment. Usually this ends up to be not the greatest idea because the software changes so rapidly that any bundled version will be laughably out of date.

However, Bambu Lab took a slightly different approach. They used the open source code for PrusaSlicer and built a better system for use with not only their equipment but other manufacturers’ devices as well. They seem to be pouring a significant amount of resources towards this development, unlike most of the others.

That has ruffled feathers at Prusa Research, who have seen a chunk of their market share disappear into Bambu Lab. It’s a bit ironic, however, as Prusa Research actually started PrusaSlicer by forking an earlier tool, Slic3r.

Nevertheless, this brings me back to the open source story above. It seems to me that similar pressures are beginning to appear in our space, and one wonders what might happen if one or both of UltiMaker and Prusa Research decided to alter their license to prevent extreme use of the software they paid enormous sums to develop.

What if one of them took the approach of Hashicorp and said that competing companies could not use the tools for production use? That would shut down any company that wanted to make custom versions for bundling with their equipment, and certainly hamper their operations.

In such a scenario, individuals and even companies would most likely be able to still run the software for their own purposes. However, a change in licensing would certainly be seen negatively by the community as a whole.

I have a suspicion discussions about this topic are taking place in several boardrooms.

Via The Stack

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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