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In October 2015, Red Hat acquired Ansible, the developer of the famous configuration management software Ansible, apparently for a price of about $100M.

Ansible, the software, AFAIK is licensed fully under the GPL. Ansible, the company, does however also develop an extension to the software called Tower that, as I understand it, is basically just a web GUI to the core software.

Considering that Redhat could use Ansible for free anyway, and would, I guess, be very well capable of creating their own sort of GUI if that's what they needed, and that even if they bought the company they still have to adhere to the GPL for the core, why on earth would they spend such a huge amount of money on this acquisition?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about business acquisitions. – curiousdannii Nov 11 '15 at 0:50
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    @curiousdannii I have to say that I would disagree with you. This seems to be a question about the effect of a business acquisition on an open source project, and what someone can do with it, considering its license. Sounds on-topic to me. – Zizouz212 Nov 11 '15 at 1:06
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    It's about the economics of open source software specifically. To better understand why any company would open their pockets to buy another company that has no exclusive rights to their own product. – vic Nov 11 '15 at 12:22
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    They can offer software solutions and support, with ansible included, they integrated the knowledge into their own company. – sebix Nov 11 '15 at 20:10
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    I'm voting to leave this open as I expect that answers will give insight into what is and what is not a consequence of being open source, which is relevant information to anyone working with or considering working with open source. – trichoplax Nov 13 '15 at 9:29
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First of all, by acquiring Ansible they not only get the copyright for the software, but most importantly the workforce - the developers who developed the tool. That is much more important than the software in question. So they can in future control the direction the software takes and also use these developers in other projects if needed or useful.

Also as Zizouz already pointed out, they also becomes the owner of the intellectual property rights to the software. That seems useless in case of Open Source software - but that is wrong. Indeed everyone can use the software and even makes forks, but only the owner of the intellectual property can also use this source code in closed source projects if they wish.

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I'm not entirely sure about this one, but here I go (as in this is like a theoretical answer).

When Redhat acquires Ansible, Redhat also acquires the intellectual property for their products. This means that they own the copyright, they can do anything that they would like with it.

If the copyright is fully theirs, and they have complete ownership, then it's theirs. They can do anything they would like. This includes changing the license, and stopping releases of that software, and even making it proprietary. However, older versions of the software will also be licensed under the GPL.

Now that Redhat owns the software, they can license it under a proprietary license: thereby allowing them to impose proprietary restrictions and effectively making it closed source. By doing this, they make their business model that is one of proprietary software, similar to other companies like Adobe, Apple, or even Microsoft.

That's for a proprietary business model.

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    They usually acquire personnel too, which is often the most valuable part of a tech company. – curiousdannii Nov 11 '15 at 0:50
  • @curiousdannii That's true. It furthers the idea that they will have a sustainable code base as well. – Zizouz212 Nov 11 '15 at 1:01
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    This answer contains a lot of speculation (as it mentions in its first paragraph). Should such answers be on this site? – Michael Schumacher Nov 11 '15 at 9:34
  • @Zizouz212 It seems that often this change in licensing doesn't even happen. And let's face it, you can get acess to new personnel but you have to pay them a salary anyway and keep them very happy or they'll leave. So all this seems not to be part of the equation that would give us those huge transaction amounts that can be seen. – vic Nov 11 '15 at 12:26
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    @vic Generally, the company can proceed to "dual-license" it. That is, keep it under the GPL, while retaining a proprietary license for their own use. About the developers, it's not that big of a deal. They can acquire them, they can let them go. If a company takes on another project, they'll have to get people to run it anyways, and who better to get than the original developers :) – Zizouz212 Nov 12 '15 at 17:40
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Actually, Red Hat answered the question in the Red Hat Blog. It is several screens long, and the jargon is mostly over my head, but this point was clear,

We believe that supporting and nurturing great open source communities is the only way to guarantee a continuous stream of innovation, and it’s what makes Red Hat so special.

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    Thanks Brian. I read that Blog entry, too. But that's mostly marketing. The reasoning is there but not in comparison to the huge amount of money spent. – vic Nov 11 '15 at 12:15
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It isn't the first time Red Hat buys a company (like it did with KVM) or the rights to a software package (as the Netscape LDAP server). What they did in those cases was eventually to distribute the software under GPL.

  • Which is just more confusing. What's the business case? Because RH for sure isn't doing this out of charity. – vic Nov 11 '15 at 12:23
  • @vic, they benefit from controlling the development of software that is critical to their customers. And Red Hat is critically dependent on the good will of the FLOSS community, so this makes sense. – vonbrand Nov 11 '15 at 21:19
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    I find the first sentence in your last comment very important, you should definitely put it in your answer. As for the good will of the FLOSS community, that seems very vague. I think they could achieve the same by providing one or two developers full time on the projects - it's GPL and there's a community, after all. This would give them some, though not full control on the project, they would still get good will from the community, and it would be a lot cheaper. – vic Nov 11 '15 at 21:30

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