Quality and security drive adoption, but community is rising fast
I recently talked to two managers of Black Duck, the first company formed to help organizations deal with the licensing issues involved in adopting open source software. With Tim Yeaton, President and CEO, and Peter Vescuso, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, I discussed the seventh Future of Open Source survey, from which I’ll post a few interesting insights later. But you can look at the slides for yourself, so this article will focus instead on some of the topics we talked about in our interview. While I cite some ideas from Yeaton and Vescuso, many of the observations below are purely my own.
The spur to collaboration
One theme in the slides is the formation of consortia that develop software for entire industries. One recent example everybody knows about is OpenStack, but many industries have their own impressive collaboration projects, such as GENIVI in the auto industry.
What brings competitors together to collaborate? In the case of GENIVI, it’s the impossibility of any single company meeting consumer demand through its own efforts. Car companies typically take five years to put a design out to market, but customers are used to product releases more like those of cell phones, where you can find something enticingly new every six months. In addition, the range of useful technologies—Bluetooth, etc.—is so big that a company has to become expert at everything at once. Meanwhile, according to Vescuso, the average high-end car contains more than 100 million lines of code. So the pace and complexity of progress is driving the auto industry to work together.
All too often, the main force uniting competitors is the fear of another vendor and the realization that they can never beat a dominant vendor on its own turf. Open source becomes a way of changing the rules out from under the dominant player. OpenStack, for instance, took on VMware in the virtualization space and Amazon.com in the IaaS space. Android attracted phone manufacturers and telephone companies as a reaction to the iPhone.
A valuable lesson can be learned from the history of the Open Software Foundation, which was formed in reaction to an agreement between Sun and AT&T. In the late 1980s, Sun had become the dominant vendor of Unix, which was still being maintained by AT&T. Their combination panicked vendors such as Digital Equipment Corporation and Apollo Computer (you can already get a sense of how much good OSF did them), who promised to create a single, unified standard that would give customers increased functionality and more competition.
The name Open Software Foundation was deceptive, because it was never open. Instead, it was a shared repository into which various companies dumped bad code so they could cynically claim to be interoperable while continuing to compete against each other in the usual way. It soon ceased to exist in its planned form, but did survive in a fashion by merging with X/Open to become the Open Group, an organization of some significance because it maintains the X Window System. Various flavors of BSD failed to dislodge the proprietary Unix vendors, probably because each BSD team did its work in a fairly traditional, closed fashion. It remained up to Linux, a truly open project, to unify the Unix community and ultimately replace the closed Sun/AT&T partnership.
Collaboration can be driven by many things, therefore, but it usually takes place in one of two fashions. In the first, somebody throws out into the field some open source code that everybody likes, as Rackspace and NASA did to launch OpenStack, or IBM did to launch Eclipse. Less common is the GENIVI model, in which companies realize they need to collaborate to compete and then start a project.
A bigger pie for all
The first thing on most companies’ minds when they adopt open source is to improve interoperability and defend themselves against lock-in by vendors. The Future of Open Source survey indicates that the top reasons for choosing open source is its quality (slide 13) and security (slide 15). This is excellent news because it shows that the misconceptions of open source are shattering, and the arguments by proprietary vendors that they can ensure better quality and security will increasingly be seen as hollow.
DevOps is as much about culture as it is about tools.
Operations professionals live in a wind tunnel. If you can imagine one of those game show glass boxes, where a contestant stands inside, the door shuts, and money blows around in a whirlwind, you’ve got a good idea of what Operations feels like much of the time. While you’re trying to grab one technology, another has forced itself across your eyes demanding attention.
The incredible growth of an industry that didn’t really even exist fifteen years ago has provided us with endless opportunity and innovations. It’s also required us to be on the forefront of many new technologies in a way other professions aren’t. The constant drive towards the next technology, the next platform, and the next idea has stratified our organizations, creating specializations in areas like networking, storage, security, data sciences, and a myriad of other functions that challenge our ability to work with our colleagues as a cohesive team.
Establishing an effective organization for large-scale growth
In the open source and free software movement, we always exalt community, and say the people coding and supporting the software are more valuable than the software itself. Few communities have planned and philosophized as much about community-building as ZeroMQ. In the following posting, Pieter Hintjens quotes from his book ZeroMQ, talking about how he designed the community that works on this messaging library.
There are, it has been said (at least by people reading this sentence out loud), two ways to make really large-scale software. Option One is to throw massive amounts of money and problems at empires of smart people, and hope that what emerges is not yet another career killer. If you’re very lucky and are building on lots of experience, have kept your teams solid, and are not aiming for technical brilliance, and are furthermore incredibly lucky, it works.
But gambling with hundreds of millions of others’ money isn’t for everyone. For the rest of us who want to build large-scale software, there’s Option Two, which is open source, and more specifically, free software. If you’re asking how the choice of software license is relevant to the scale of the software you build, that’s the right question.
The brilliant and visionary Eben Moglen once said, roughly, that a free software license is the contract on which a community builds. When I heard this, about ten years ago, the idea came to me—Can we deliberately grow free software communities?
New regulations could mark the end of proprietary finance.
Currently, anyone can crowdfund products, projects, causes, and sometimes debt. Current U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations make crowdfunding companies (i.e. selling stocks rather than products on crowdfund platforms) illegal. The only way to sell stocks to the public at large under the current law is through the heavily regulated Initial Public Offering (IPO) process.
The JOBS Act will soon change these rules. This will mean that platforms like Kickstarter will be able to sell shares in companies, assuming those companies follow certain strict rules. This change in finance law will enable open source companies to access capital and dominate the technology industry. This is the dawn of crowdfunded finance, and with it comes the dawn of open source technology everywhere.
The JOBS Act is already law, and it required the SEC to create specific rules by specific deadlines. The SEC is working on the rulemaking, but it has made it clear that given the complexity of this new finance structure, meeting the deadlines is not achievable. No one is happy with the delay but the rules should be done in late 2013 or early 2014.
When those rules are addressed, thousands of open source companies will use this financial instrument to create new types of enterprise open source software, hardware, and bioware. These companies will be comfortably funded by their open source communities. Unlike traditional venture-capital-backed companies, these new companies will narrowly focus on getting the technology right and putting their communities first. Eventually, I think these companies will make most proprietary software companies obsolete. Read more…
An interview with Matthew McCullough
In this video interview, Matthew McCullough of GitHub discusses what they’ve learned over time as they grow and watch projects develop there.
Heavy data, open source strategies for businesses, and collaborating on code.
This week on O’Reilly: Jim Stogdill said data is getting heavier relative to the networks that carry it around the data center; Simon Phipps revealed open source community strategies relevant to the enterprise; and Team Geek authors Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman discussed the importance of developer collaboration.
Key open source considerations for businesses, communities and developers.
OSCON’s theme last year was “from disruption to default.” Over the last decade, we’ve seen open source shift from the shadows to the limelight. Today, more businesses than ever are considering the role of open source in their strategies. I’ve had the chance to watch and participate in the transitions of numerous businesses and business units to using open source for the first time, as well as observing how open source strategies evolve for software businesses, both old and new.
In the view of many, open source is the pragmatic expression of the ethical idea of “software freedom,” articulated in various ways for several decades by communities around both Richard Stallman’s GNU Project and the BSD project. The elements of open source and free software are simple to grasp; software freedom delivers the rights to use, study, modify and distribute software for any purpose, and the Open Source Definition clarifies one area of that ethical construct with pragmatic rules that help identify copyright licenses that promote software freedom. But just as simple LEGO bricks unlock an infinite world of creativity, so these open source building blocks offer a wide range of usage models, which are still evolving.
This paper offers some thinking tools for those involved in the consideration and implementation of open source strategies, both in software consuming organizations and by software creators. It aims to equip you with transferrable explanations for some of the concepts your business leaders will need to consider. It includes:
- A model for understanding the different layers of community that can form around an open source code “commons” and how you should (and should not) approach them.
- An exploration of the symbiotic relationship of transparency and privacy in open source communities.
- An explanation of where customer value comes from in enterprise open source, which illuminates the problems with “open core” strategies for communities and customers.
- A reflection on the principle that can be seen at work across all these examples: “trade control for influence”
Part of a series about efforts by VoIP Drupal collaborators to find the right media and tools with which to promote a small, little known software project.
Denise R. Jacobs advocates for new approaches to work and community.
Author and web design consultant Denise R. Jacobs reveals lessons she learned about creativity while writing her first book. She also discusses her efforts to give women and people of color more visibility in the tech world.
VoIP Drupal is a window onto the promises and challenges faced by a new open source project, including its documentation. A meeting at at MIT this week worked out some long-term plans for firming up VoIP Drupal's documentation and other training materials.