Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Atlassian becoming an Open Source company?

[There is an update, see end of post]

Short answer: No, but read on :)

I've been playing with the latest Atlassian Plugin SDK and I was finding the tutorials lacking in something I wanted to do.

So I looked at the JIRA source to see how they did something similar. Yep, you read that right: I looked into the source of the crown jewels of of a multi-million dollar software company

How is this possible?

Use the source, Luke.

A couple of years back, JIRA used to come in multiple editions of which only one, the enterprise edition, allowed you to view and compile the source code. Now, there is only one edition and it includes the source code.

Essentially, for $10, you now have access to the source code for JIRA. Now, it is not entirely open source in that you cannot redistribute it yourself, but it is something that helps their users which is a major stated goal of open source software.

Why would they do this?

Redhat is a billion dollar (almost) company and they sell open source software. IBM sells consulting services related to open source software. Microsoft is coming into the fold, kicking and screaming, perhaps throwing chairs, but I modify some of their open source stuff.

In short: keeping the source code for JIRA completely proprietary is probably not that important for these guys. Controlling the distribution and trademark is, however. You can see that with Redhat vs CentOS as well.

Why does this matter?

Instead of giving up and/or cursing the tutorials, I was able to solve the problem on my own. This means a healthier ecosystem for JIRA as more people will become familiar with how things work rather than waiting for a tutorial on "how to do X with the JIRA SDK".

So hats off to the Atlassian guys for taking a well-calculated risk that not many other companies would try.

Back to playing with the SDK.

Update: I took a look at the source license and it's not clear to me whether you can learn from the source code to use in plugins so just be aware that this may not be a kosher way to go.

Update 2: Jonathan, from Atlassian, has confirmed that it is fine to use the source code in this manner. Thanks Jonathan!

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