Ann Shlemmer, President atPercona.
Open source describes an approach to how software is created and licensed. It helps companies and individuals create code, make that software available to others and manage their projects over time. During my time working at Sun, Oracle and Percona, I have seen the role of open source change. Today, open source powers the data and digital transformation projects at companies around the world.
Open-source software is now at the heart of how we run our lives. At its core, open source democratizes innovation, where everyone can start innovating and building software in a more collaborative and efficient way.
People contribute to open source for many reasons. Individuals can create code that meets their own needs then release that code for users to use. Teams see a gap in the market and launch a project, using open source’s popularity to increase awareness and engage more developers.
Companies use open source in their applications to meet their objectives. They can contribute to the code themselves or use third parties to support their deployments. As the code is open, they have a choice over who to work with, and they are not locked into a proprietary system.MORE FROMFORBES ADVISOR
Over the past 25 years, open source now underpins wide swathes of the internet, cloud computing services and digital transformation projects. This expansion has been accompanied by market developments like companies getting venture capital funding to support their work to more cloud services launching to make those projects available to more developers. There is more competition among the companies set up to work around open-source projects and those that seek to monetize their platforms.
Money And Open Source
Both sides of this debate want open source to be successful. This is due to developer demand. The All Things Open State of the Software Supply Chain report for 2021 predicted that developers would download 73% more packages than they did the previous year.
However, this needs more definition. For companies that get funding to support a project, their opportunity is to be the “owners” or “guides” for that community. Companies in the cloud space see open-source projects as services that they can offer to developers in simple ways. This makes life easier for developers, but it also helps the cloud providers get more revenue.
If too much revenue associated with open source goes to companies that don’t directly support projects, this can affect how viable those projects are. This has led some companies to change their licenses to “source available” options. While these licenses might be useful, they are not open source.
Sustainability And Open Source
This has led to questions about how to make open source sustainable for the future. While contributors are free to provide code, updates and time to support projects—indeed, this is why free, and open-source software exists—contributors working for companies outside big technology vendors need to find their own ways to create sustainable income.
While these projects were quickly rolled back to stop the problems, this situation demonstrated both the importance of open source and that these projects need more attention around security and management. Alongside these problems, security issues in Apache Log4j were discovered in December 2021, and the U.S. Government held a summit at the White House with leading open-source communities and technology companies. The result will be a greater focus on promoting code quality, improving responses when issues are found and more collaboration to fix issues across deployments using Software Bills of Materials.
Each of these steps is worthwhile, but it comes back to how open source is supported over time. It is not possible to create businesses around all open source projects with services and support revenues. Some projects are too small or too specific and, therefore, will not be commercially viable, while other projects face more competition from cloud providers for those revenues that do exist. Instead, the industry as a whole has to look at the future.
This involves more competition based on expertise around open-source projects so that companies can support contributors and demonstrate their value. Companies can build their expertise into products that still provide the best of open source—flexibility, open licenses, the ability to change suppliers without lock-in—but also make it easier to scale up. This will help more enterprises use open source and support contributors.
There is also an argument that open-source projects could be supported as “public good” projects, just as physical infrastructure is funded in the real world. Projects like bridges and roads benefit everyone, and they require funding for maintenance. Should there be a similar approach for the digital equivalent, open source?
Governments around the world already use open source for technology projects. In the U.K., the Central Data and Digital Office published a technology code of practice that includes a commitment to use open source and publish work under open source licenses. This has been taken up in the U.K.’s National Health Service and by the Energy Digitalisation Task Force report, which advocates for open source and open standards. This report discusses how to create a limited number of public interest digital assets that would be available under open source licenses.
This points to how government, business and individuals can all contribute. Government involvement around public interest digital assets can get projects started. Businesses will take on how these assets get extended, developed and supported. By making the market open, it speeds up how companies innovate and build services or business models around areas like data.
While open source is critical to businesses, it is not a business model in itself. What it makes possible is participation in innovation. Open source will rely on sustainable and successful businesses to continue.
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