Earlier this week, Amazon Web Services general manager Andi Gutmans responded to a recent New York Times report criticizing the company's use of open source technologies, and saying that he wasn't pleased would be an understatement.
The New York Times article said that Amazon "strip-mined" open source projects by copying them with its own services for use with AWS. That allowed the company to benefit from outside innovations, the report said, while leveraging AWS' popularity.
The first part of that process--financially benefiting from open source projects--isn't particularly novel. Many of the world's largest tech companies incorporate at least some amount of open source technology in the products and services they sell.
The second part, using AWS' popularity to its advantage, resulted in much of the criticism. The New York Times said that several executives--who spoke anonymously to avoid reprisal from Amazon--claimed Amazon was competing unfairly.
Gutmans responded by saying that Amazon has many developer partners who offer services on top of AWS, and that Amazon contributes to over a dozen open source projects as well. But the most passionate response was given in this paragraph:
Customers use open source because it’s supposed to be open, available to run anywhere, and easily used on-premises and in the cloud with whichever providers customers choose to use in these environments. Customers have repeatedly told us that they want AWS to offer managed services for Elasticsearch and other popular open source projects. A number of maintainers of open source projects build commercial companies around the open source project. A small set of outliers see it as a zero-sum game and want to be the only ones able to freely monetize managed services around these open source projects. As such, they have gone back and altered the open source licensing terms, co-mingled truly open source with proprietary code, and tried to make it hard for customers to use other providers’ managed services in the cloud. This is not customer-focused, not what customers want, and not why customers started using the open source project in the first place. We are committed to making sure that open source projects remain truly open and customers get to choose how they use that open source software – whether they choose AWS or not.
This debate is currently limited to the court of public opinion, but that might change. Bloomberg reported earlier this month that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has "been asking software companies recently about practices" used by AWS.