I want to use open source software for my business, and it is dual licensed. If I choose the paid license which provides support for any changes we require, will this mean that we are unable to change to a different support provider in future?

In this article I was concerned by the following suggestion:

Some vendors operate on a 'dual-licence' business model, in which customers can buy a license to get access to the vendor's support team or to extra features and extensions for the core software, such as management tools.

According to Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner, the overwhelming majority of commercial open-source efforts today are based on a dual-licence model.

Customers should know, he says, that with this option, "the open-source-ness of the product comes into question".

While open-source software licences cost less than commercial software licences, they include terms and conditions that restrict your use and lock you into a vendor.

Was this a valid concern at the time the article was written (2010) and does it still apply to dual licensed software today?

  • 4
    That entirely depends on the license you've been presented with. It has nothing to do with the dual-licensing part per se. Jun 24, 2015 at 16:56
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's to do with a specific licensing problem. We're looking for questions that can be applied to a more general audience.
    – ArtOfCode
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:17
  • 6
    @ArtOfCode No, that is not correct. You might be confusing this with the "too localized" issue (now gone). But it is actually quite the opposite — SE thrives on asking very specific questions. Issues requiring specific knowledge or "specialized expertise" are what make these sites work. When a site fills with easy or overly generalized questions that have been asked hundreds of times on every other site on the subject, you might as well read Wikipedia. Please don't close questions because they are not generally applicable to everyone. That is not what Stack Exchange is about. Jun 29, 2015 at 14:20
  • 2
    @RobertCartaino duly noted
    – ArtOfCode
    Jun 29, 2015 at 15:17

2 Answers 2


When you use the open source version, you can ask any 3rd party vendor you consider qualified for support. The original licensor can't prevent anyone from offering advise, and the right to fork gives 3rd parties the right to make any changes you want.

However, be aware that:

  • Trademark laws might make it difficult for 3rd parties to advertise their support services, so you might have issues finding a provider even though they are on the market.
  • Nobody knows the software as well as those people who developed it, so you might get higher quality support from the original company (your mileage may vary).
  • Bugfixes and features you request from the original vendor might find their way into the mainline of the product, so there won't be any issues with them in future versions. But any modifications on your private fork made by a 3rd party contractor likely won't. That means your private fork will diverge and the maintenance overhead to apply the updates from upstream will increase.

Another issue which might prevent you from switching to the free version in the first place is when the proprietary version comes with extra features not included in the free version, and you grow too dependent on these tools.


It does not lock you into a provider. You are free to hire another provider to maintain the open source version for you. So the only "lockin" is the fact that whatever you paid the first vendor is sunk, and maybe the second vendor won't be allowed access to the first vendor's modifications.

If the first vendor didn't modify the code, or if they sent their mods back upstream, or incorporated their mods into the open source version, this is not a problem for you, because under these conditions any subsequent support vendor would have access to code that is identical to your version of the code.

Depending upon the license under which you accepted the supported code, the supported, modified version might belong to the first vendor, so the second vendor might not be allowed access to it.

But if the supported, modified version belongs to you as a "work for hire" then you would be able to transfer it to your new vendor, or send it back upstream to bring the open source code back into sync with your private version.

It all depends upon what the license says; your own lawyer will have to interpret it for you, and hopefully negotiate the license terms for you before you accept them. I am not a lawyer.

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