Open for Business: Making Money from Free and Open Source Software and Hardware

Jeremy Bennett

To those familiar with traditional business models, Embecosm is something of a mystery.  A team of very highly paid engineers using expensive equipment to write immensely complex software, which we then give away for free.  Yet despite this, we are a growing and profitable business.

The answer of course is that we are not paid for the software product we produce.  We are a service business and we are paid to write that software, which our customers then give away to enable the use of and help to advertise their wider products.  This business model works for Embecosm, because first of all we have customers with a very strong commercial pressure to provide compilers; and secondly writing compilers is really, really hard.

Our customers are generally processor manufacturing companies, and a good implementation of either GCC or LLVM is a must-have for any successful processor design.  As I have written before, there are probably only between 20 and 50 true experts worldwide in implementing each of the major free and open source compiler tool chains (GCC and LLVM).  By which I mean engineers who can provide a compiler implementation in timely fashion, which is robust, produces good code under all circumstances, passes all regression tests and is successful with a wide range of production release tests and benchmarks.

This is perhaps the oldest and simplest of open source business models.  But there are many other business models that work, and which may be much more suitable for different commercial sectors.  How do you choose the right one for your business?  Indeed, how do you get started with an open source business at all?  Getting access to open source specific business expertise is a problem for the wider open source community.  To help address this, and in partnership with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group, and the Open Source Consortium, we have put together a one day conference as part of the Wuthering Bytes Festival, bringing together leading authorities in open source business to share their expertise.

Open for Business: Monday 28th September


08:30–17:30. Hebden Bridge Town Hall, Saint George’s Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 7BY

This one day conference aims to help anyone with or working at an open source business, along with those who may be thinking of starting an open source business.

The presentations will provide insights into first-hand experiences at companies ranging from micro to global in scale, together with talks that look at the economics and legal considerations, exploring open source business models and contracts.  We will also hear about the role of open source in taking ideas out of University and into commercial deployment. There will be presentations that explore public sector adoption of open source and the opportunities that it presents. Finally, there there will be a talk that looks at the government support available for innovation.  Generous breaks for coffee, lunch and tea ensure there will be plenty of opportunity for networking.

To find out more and book your place, look at the agenda and details of the talks and speakers.

Open for Business is hosted by the BCS Open Source Specialist Group and the Open Source Consortium, and is being run as part of the Wuthering Bytes technology festival.

Wuthering Bytes

wuthering bytes logo dark_720w

One of the reasons for hosting Open for Business as part of the Wuthering Bytes festival, is that it provides the perfect stage within which to explore potential business opportunities.  Immediately before Open for Business is the annual conference of the Open Source Hardware User Group, over the weekend of 26th & 27th September. This features 13 talks and 7 hands-on workshops, covering topics including the Internet of Things, open hardware licensing, research into the maker movement, open source processors and wearable computing.

Then immediately following Open for Business, Calderdale Council are hosting three days on the theme of Our Tech Future, exploring topics such as the role of open data in the provision of public services, citizen innovation and much more.

Finally, the festival will draw to a close on Friday 2nd October with a day of talks that are a celebration of technology in everyday life, with inspiring stories and thought provoking insights, covering a diverse range of topics.

I look forward to seeing you all there.


My thanks to Gary Cheski for permission to use his cartoon

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