Medsphere Gets a Microbus

Okay, my day was going pretty well. I’m am trying desperately to finish an RFP. I’d caught up on mail and tickets, and although I’d rather be outside (since it is a beautiful spring day) I finally got focused on getting my reply written.

I take a little break and what should I find on my RSS feed but a post by Matt “I live to press Tarus’s buttons” Asay featuring a cute little VW microbus and my blood pressure went skyward again.

Photo yoinked from here

If you want to see me rant about the abuse of the term “open source” you really have to look no further than Medsphere. In fact “Remember Medsphere!” is my rallying cry to caution other entrepreneurs about being careful while seeking investment.

Medsphere was founded by the Drs. Shreeve (Scott and Steve). They accepted investment, proceeded to develop their software, released it on Sourceforge and were promptly sued by their investors for US$50 million. The suit listed twelve counts including violations of RICO, which if found true could have left the Shreeves penniless.

An interview with Fred Trotter gives a good summary of the situation.

They eventually settled the lawsuit, but I don’t know the details. Steve Shreeve blogged about the situation while he was still involved with the company, but he hasn’t posted in nearly 2.5 years and as far as I can tell he and his brother are not involved with the company they founded. I can’t help feeling that he knew these actions had destroyed Medsphere’s open source credibility and he was trying to boost it back up, but his non-involvement with the company seems to provide proof that it wasn’t to be.

Cool bus or not, I find it hard to believe that Medsphere is the example we in open source should be striving to emulate. It is the prime example of a company using the term “open source” to market proprietary software. It takes more than a hippie bus to embrace hippie ideals, but I think in almost every value system Medsphere got it wrong.

8 thoughts on “Medsphere Gets a Microbus

  1. Yep — all that history is true. But that was close to three years and several executive teams ago.

    Please take a look at and the numerous open source projects we sponsor and contribute to… I think you’ll find that our commitment is there and is backed-up by our code releases and participation in the community.

    I hope you have a moment to take a look and perhaps revise your opinion.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Unfortunately, you’ll have to forgive me for not believing you. While the executive team may be different, your Board has barely changed.

    According to your website, June 10th, 2006, the Board was:

    Kenneth W. Kizer, MD/MPH
    Larry Augustin, PhD
    Mike Kwatinetz, PhD
    Dave Crowder
    Nick Efstratis
    Randall S. Prust, MD
    Steve Shreeve

    And currently your website reports it as

    Kenneth W. Kizer, MD/MPH
    Michael J. Doyle
    Larry Augustin, PhD
    Mike Kwatinetz, PhD
    Dave Crowder
    Nick Efstratis
    Randall S. Prust, MD

    It looks like the only difference is that Michael J. Doyle has replaced Steve Shreeve.

    The facts you can’t change are that the founders of Medsphere were very unceremoniously dumped out of the company they founded, and the charges (I can send you a copy if you like) against them were designed to strike as much fear into them as possible. While you may think that three years makes this old news, it is something I won’t forget in my lifetime and one reason OpenNMS has yet to accept VC investment.

  3. I can appreciate your opinion on the matter. I do not require a copy of the civil lawsuit, nor do I need a history lesson.

    More importantly, I do not judge open source projects by the members of a company’s board of directors. I’m sorry you see no value in the numerous contributions made by the product development staff at Medsphere simply because their boss’ boss works for an executive that reports to a board of directors.

  4. As a former contractor to Medsphere I can definitely say that they ARE an open source company without a doubt. To say anything otherwise is simply ignorance, narrow mindedness, or malcontent. It borders on commercial interference, too. Open source means basically sharing of code and knowledge. Medsphere is very transparent in this regard. Their business model does not mean free however. Although you can go to their website and download the basic program for free. Medsphere’s software is not proprietary in any way, shape, or form. Get it right and stop badmouthing a company that has a great vision and great product for transforming the future of healthcare without the ridiculous price tags of the proprietary vendors. And guess what. OpenVista works! Just go ask Midland Memorial Doctors what they think. I have and they love it.

  5. Unfortunately, it seems that you are showing an ignorance of the term “open source”. It has a very specific definition:

    that is much more than “basically sharing of code and knowledge”.

    Since it seems you are an MD, I won’t lecture you on medicine if you won’t lecture me on the term open source. It makes us both look silly.

    I also think you are might misunderstand the term “not proprietary in any way, shape, or form.” While Medsphere software may be based on VistA, anything outside the “basic program” is distributed under a very proprietary, non-open source license, no different from other commercial software in this space.

    It’s nice to see that you like the Medsphere product. I have no opinion one way or another on its usefulness. My points are simply that it is open core, not open source, software, and that the vision that is “transforming the future of healthcare” belonged to the Shreeve brothers, who were unceremoniously relieved of their company by the same people who sit on the Board of Directors of Medsphere today.

    You seem to be one of those people who believes that the end justifies the means. I don’t.

  6. anything outside the “basic program” is distributed under a very proprietary, non-open source license, no different from other commercial software in this space.

    I think you are going to get a barrage of comments to enlighten you. You are just plain wrong. Enjoy!

  7. Actually, it sounds as if you were just enlightened. But it is Medsphere that will when in the end because their marketing team knows the technology product silver bullet: Dress a hot chick up in clothing that makes her look “smart hot” and put her picture on your home page.

  8. Yo, Doc. Let’s look at this historically.

    The Shreeves started Medsphere. They received funding and built a Board. They built a tool, and they released it on Sourceforge.

    For this, they were sued for $50 million dollars. Can you explain why an open source software company would care that their software was open source? The only reason to sue the Shreeves would be if Medsphere has proprietary licensing plans for that code.

    Next, once the code was in the wild, the Board of Medsphere issued a DMCA takedown notice to Sourceforge to have it removed. Again, only the motivations of a proprietary software company can explain this action.

    Do you have a different interpretation of events? Or do you just prefer to spout rhetoric and threats from a basically anonymous AOL account?

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