Are you watching Elasticsearch and the licensing dynamics at play?

There's a ton that I don't know. Let's start with that.

There's a software solution out there that isn't just about search. It's called Elasticsearch by a company called Elastic. And they recently announced a change to their licensing. It's a powerful piece of software that is used in a lot of places. And it's always been licensed as open source software.

Wikipedia kicks off the definition of an open source license as,

An open-source license is a type of license for computer software and other products that allows the source code, blueprint or design to be used, modified and/or shared under defined terms and conditions.[1][2] This allows end users and commercial companies to review and modify the source code, blueprint or design for their own customization, curiosity or troubleshooting needs. Open-source licensed software is mostly available free of charge, though this does not necessarily have to be the case.[3]

So that's the license that Elastic had used. But it is making this change, not because of people like you and I. Users aren't the issue here.

Instead, it's cloud providers. Like AWS.

A few years ago AWS launched their own Amazon Elasticsearch Service. Now, if you notice, the term “Elasticsearch” is in the name. Right away, it looks like a trademark issue – unless AWS was working collaboratively with Elastic. But it doesn't appear that it has.

And let's be clear, if one cloud provider can leverage the open source code to turn it into a hosted platform, then others can too. Right?

You can see the Elastic position in this set of tweets and this announcement.

I don't have an opinion on it all yet. But I'm paying attention to Elasticsearch.

And, of course, AWS has their own position, and reaction. They're forking Elasticsearch so that they “can keep it open source”.

It's a smooth positioning technique. But I'm not sure I buy it. I can't be certain, but it feels more like a strategy to pull a community towards it, simply by declaring they “had” to fork it to keep it open.

Like I said, I don't know everything. The news is fresh and I'm not steeped in the details of what has happened between the two companies.

But I'm paying attention. Because the dynamics are not only interesting. They're relevant to the world I spend my days in – WordPress and, of course, WooCommerce.

It matters because it's about licensing and open source.

WordPress is licensed as open source software. As is WooCommerce. And hosts like Nexcess offer Managed WordPress and Managed WooCommerce hosting – because we are able to. We add our own bundles to create an offering that we think makes these products even better. But when we create software solutions to go with it, like we did with our Custom Orders Table for WooCommerce, it's also open source and available to all.

In other words, we've never had any issues working within the license and working within the community. And we're not anywhere near the size of the big players like Google, AWS, or Microsoft.

But what happens if one of them decides to take over a trademarked product and offer it as their own? What would happen? And would the license change be something we see in our space?

And more importantly, what happens after that? What happens to hosts like us? Or to customers like you and I?

Whenever something like this plays out – a licensing question and open source – it's rarely seen the inside of a court.

But this situation may find itself there. And if it does, precedents may be set.

And that's why it's worth watching Elasticsearch. It's an open source licensed software solution that is shifting away from open source to protect itself from the big three cloud hyperscalers, while being forked by one of them. It really doesn't get crazier than this.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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