Online Educa’s Platinum Sponsor Fronter is a Closed Source Proprietary Product Part 2

The 2008 Online Educa in Berlin was the first time I saw Fronter‘s appropriation of the term “open source” for their own marketing gain (they are not the only company looking for some open source street cred). At that time I wrote an irate blog post that got a bit of attention, but never a reply from Fronter itself.

It wasn’t surprising to see that Fronter did not change its ways for this year’s Online Educa. I wrote the following tweet:

Tweet about my disappointment with Fronter

My slightly provocative attitude had its effect and Fronter’s CEO Roger Larsen send me an email asking to meet with him. We had a quick chat at the Fronter stand.

OSI certified, the logo Fronter can't use

OSI certified, the logo Fronter can't use

He asked me what it was that I didn’t like. I explained that I don’t mind a proprietary business model for software (you can sell the software you create in any way you see fit), but that I have a problem with his misleading language in his marketing materials.

According to him it has never been his intention to mislead his customers. He is not sure of what he has done wrong as he has used the term “open source” for his software in his marketing materials for over ten years now. It has only been in the last three years that the open source movement has hijacked the term open source and given it a specific meaning.

I then told him that the Open Source Initiative (OSI) started in 1998 and that the first version of the GNU General Public License (GPL) came out in 1989. I pointed out the parts of their brochure that I thought were misleading and offered him my help in ensuring that the next iteration of the brochure would not make incorrect use of the term open source. He gracefully accepted that offer.

I leave it up to the reader to judge whether his innocence is genuine. I myself will judge that at next year’s Online Educa.

Online Educa’s Platinum Sponsor Fronter is a Closed Source Proprietary Product

The most Deceptive Sign in LA

The most Deceptive Sign in LA

Warning, this is a bit of a rant…

I hate false advertising. That is why I was delighted to read that Apple had to pull an iPhone ad recently (see: What the banned iPhone ad should really look like).

I am currently at the Online Educa in Berlin where Fronter is the Platinum sponsor. I found their brochure in the conference bag and was appalled by what I read.

Fronter has decided to adopt the discourse of open source software without actually delivering an open source product. Recently, this has been a strategy for many companies who produce proprietary software and are losing market share to open source products. This is the first time that I have seen it done in such a blatant way though.

Some quotes from their brochure:

The essence of Fronter’s Open Philosophy is to give learning institutions the benefit of an open source and open standard learning platform – while at the same time issuing guarantees for security, reliability and scalability, all included in a predictable fixed cost of ownership package.


Fronter’s Open Platform philosophy combines the best of two worlds; innovation based on open source, with guarantees and fixed cost of ownership issued by a corporation.


Open source: The Fronter source code is available to all licensed customers.
Open guarantee: In contrast to traditional open source products, Fronter offers tight service level agreements, quality control and a zero-bug regime.

I am sure the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would not appreciate these untruths. So let us do some debunking.

The term open source actually has a definition. The Open Source Definition starts with the following statement: “Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code.” It then continues by listing the ten conditions that need to be met before a software license can call itself open source. Many of these conditions are not met by Fronter (e.g. free distribution, allowing distribution of the source code or allowing derived works).

These conditions exist for a reason. Together they facilitate the community based software development model which has proven itself to be so effective (read: The Cathedral and the Bazaar if you want to know more). Just giving your licensees access to the source code, does not leverage this “many eyeballs” potential.

I really dislike how they pretend that open source products cannot have proper service level agreements or quality control.SLA’s and QA is exactly what European Moodle partners like eLeDia, CV&A Consulting, MediaTouch 2000 srl and my employer Stoas (all present at this Educa) have been delivering in the last couple of years.

What is a “zero-bug regime” anyway? Does it mean that your customers cannot know any of the bugs in your software? Or is Fronter the only commercially available software product in the world that has no bugs? I much prefer the completely transparent way of dealing with bugs that Moodle has.

Fronter people, please come and meet me at the Moodle Solutions stand (E147 and E148). I would love to hear you tell me how wrong I am.