Docker had a bad week. What’s less clear is whether Docker had it coming.
For those of you who haven’t heard, last week Docker announced that it would be canceling Free Team subscriptions. Some in the open source world read this as “pay or lose your data”. In light of the uproar, Docker was quick to apologize: “We did a terrible job announcing the end of Docker Free Teams.” Unsurprisingly, this failed to appease his most vociferous critics: “The open source community is not alarmed by how you communicated, but by that you communicated and how you implemented the transition,” one person commented.
If this sounds like another day at the open source office, that’s because it is. After more than 20 years of working in and around open source, I’ve learned that often people get angrier about things they haven’t paid for. Free as in beer, free as in outrage.
In speaking with Scott Johnston, CEO of Docker, it becomes clear that this change does not reveal nefarious plans to force open source projects to pay. If he did, Johnston probably wouldn’t deserve his CEO title, given that the change affected less than 1.8% of all Docker users. You don’t optimize revenue by targeting a rounding error on your income statement.
Instead, the change is perhaps best explained by Docker’s multi-year journey to refocus its business on developers. Yes really. Let’s talk about how.
bad at math
If Docker were trying to shake up open source projects (to the whopping $420/year, as some erroneously claim), it probably shouldn’t offer a sponsored open source tier with better benefits than the retired Free Team tier, as without Improved rate limits and visibility in Docker Hub, and better analytics. All for $0. This “results in a better experience for both the publisher of the open source project and the [for the] end users of your software,” says Johnston.
The Free Team tier, by contrast, “ended up being a mixed bag for a bunch of different types of customers and users and wasn’t…serving any of them particularly well,” says Johnston. Was Docker trying to get customers out of that free team tier? Clearly. That’s what sunset does. But he was trying to force open source projects, some of which were affected by the change, to pay $420 every year? No. Instead, Johnston suggests, the idea is to simplify the move from open source projects to sponsored open source: “You don’t have to do anything with your account. All you have to do is apply. And if you apply, we’ll just bless you, we’ll say hello, that’s fine.”
It seems that some users have not had as smooth an experience, although it seems to be improving. Again, this raises the question of how this fits into Docker’s business plan. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for open source conspiracy theorists (of which there are many at Hacker News).), but if Docker was looking to increase revenue, chasing a Lilliputian percentage of users would not be the way to achieve it. It also wouldn’t be too smart to point to open source projects, which are notoriously short on cash. (Remember, we’ve spent decades debating how to make open source sustainable.)
So for those who accuse Docker of trying to increase their revenue through predatory business practices targeting the 2% of their users with limited bank balances, they need to find a better villain. The math behind “Docker is trying to squeeze open source projects”. it just doesn’t add up. What are you doing?
Party like it’s 2019
In November 2019, Docker went through an incredibly painful restructuring. The company had gotten a bit lost and became dependent on larger businesses that served intra-company operations executives. Looking back at that time, Johnston said the executive team and board of directors realized that developers, not operations, were the future of the company, as InfoWorld has previously covered.
That meant a different mindset, a different revenue model, a different everything.
The company sold a large percentage of its business to Mirantis, leaving a fraction of its employee base to chart a new developer-focused course. Docker Enterprise and Swarm came out. Came a focus on speed and application security. Today, Docker automatically creates a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), giving developers visibility into what’s inside a container, without the developer having to do anything. Then there’s Docker Scout, which automatically indexes all the packages going into that image before it’s built, then checks it against the public databases of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) so it can notify the developer of the need to update. , for example, because a newer version may be CVE-free.
The point is to give developers “a guided experience” to help them “make smart decisions locally right there on your laptop.” The revenue model has much lower price points, is developer-oriented, and aligned with developer productivity. None of it benefits from alleged extortion of open source projects or developers in general. If we consider the Free Team tier decision in light of Docker’s business pragmatics, as well as the company’s guiding virtues, while acknowledging that imperfect humans were involved, it becomes much easier to view the decision. exactly as Docker described it: well-intentioned, poorly communicated, and executed.
One of those Docker virtues, “open collaboration,” is reflected in how the company tries to gather feedback. First, Docker maintains a public roadmap on GitHub. Developers are encouraged to comment there, and the leadership team reviews comments at least weekly, Johnston says. Second, Docker has external Docker Captains, similar to Microsoft MVP or AWS Heroes, who advocate for Docker while also providing feedback. (I’m guessing his private Slack channel was buzzing after news broke about the Free Team tier going extinct.) And third, Docker relies on a Technical Advisory Group that includes a dozen senior technologists from outside organizations who advise on product direction.
Should these “open contributors” have caught the Free Team bug before it happened? Maybe. But the point with Docker, as with any company, is not what it does at any given time, but its general direction over time. In this light, it’s hard to look at Docker since 2019 and not come to the conclusion that this is a company that takes developers seriously and continues to find ways to increase their productivity. It’s easy to make fun of how Docker handled the Free Team tier change, but doing so misses just how much Docker has changed, and continues to change, in a developer-focused company.
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.
Be First to Comment