Are corporate dollars making open source less valuable or more beneficial?

Commentary: Although some are concerned about the flow of money into open source, it is a fact that money has always driven innovation and sustainability in open source.

Image: Kheng Guan Toh/Shutterstock

Why shouldn’t open source be more profitable? It’s almost certain that yes.

Open source was a symbol of resistance many years ago. From Linux to Apache HTTP Server, open-source software provided a countercultural alternative to traditional ways to create great software. This created an incredibly popular program, which was then used to fund companies and products. Some people seem to distrust or denigrate the corporate imprint of open source software today, and may be rightly stressing how money will shape communities that allow open source projects to thrive. 

Although caution is necessary, I would argue that the positives far outweigh the risks. If open source sustainability is something you are concerned about, like many, we need to find more and better ways of encouraging funding for that software.

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Open source software doesn’t grow in trees

Open source is “a f—-ing lot of work,” Matt Klein, the founder of the popular Envoy open source project, once told me. No one can afford to sit around, writing open source code all day–not without some sort of income. Ask the maintainers of these open-source projects about how funding a project works. They will tell you that it is complex and likely to differ based on the inherent characteristics of the project as well as its goals. 

It is clear, from these conversations, how difficult it can be to maintain projects. Enterprises are consuming more open-source code, and they also expect more from those who code it. Sometimes, altruistic development runs into the brick wall that is finite resources and patience.

Companies can be very useful in this area.

Interview with Hortonworks cofounder and Apache Software Foundation member, Alan GatesThis is how it should be:

“The reality is that many vendors selling commercial products based open-source software have a tendency to offer what are commonly referred to as downstream build, which basically combines open-source releases with any relevant bug fixes and security patches.

In a way, this relieves open-source project owners from having to bear the entire support burden. Customers who have an existing relationship with vendors involved in open-source projects are more likely to seek out the vendor to patch any security flaws in that software. This is mainly because they know that they will get patched software much faster that way. Many organizations have entered into agreements with these vendors because of this.

Some people like to accuse “VC-driven opensource” of destroying the spirit and spirit of open source. I can’t disagree more as someone who has worked for open source startups most of my professional life. Most of the code created by “open source” companies is open source. All benefit from this. This is true, some companies may hold back code to encourage customers to sign up, but if the cost for open source code is only a fraction of proprietary code, then isn’t it a good thing?

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This doesn’t mean that every open-source project has to be funded by one or more companies. Klein explained to me that a “horseshoe” of people can be funded, for example. [told me]If you want your open source project to succeed, it is only possible with if [I]Started a company. As in, “if…” [I]It was not the right place to start a business. Although he refused to move in that direction, Envoy did find a home within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. The CNCF, in case you were wondering, is Funded by many large companiesLarge wallets. Klein may not have created a company to finance Envoy development but he needed companies to help him. 

Open source influence by corporations isn’t always perfect. It’s not easy to choose between too much money or too little open source.

Disclosure: MongoDB is my employer, but the views expressed in this article are entirely mine..

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