“The Future For Open Source” by Adrian Bridgwater explores some of the problems that have sprung out of the adoption and commercialization of FOSS. He talks to Amanda Brock, the CEO of OpenUK, Avi Press, the CEO of Scarf, and Peter Zaitsev, the founder of Percona. All four of these people are executives in companies that are built on FOSS and facilitate a sustainable FOSS ecosystem.
Bridgwater begins by explaining the state of software and FOSS. While application development moves quickly, platforms and models evolve much slower. This means that enterprises need to have both speed and stability. FOSS, which has historically been shunned by enterprises, now is deeply engrained
Bridgwater then talks to Avi Press. Avi is the CEO of Scarf, which provides software to FOSS project maintainers. He argues that FOSS is going to grow in two ways. First, FOSS is going to replace existing commercial projects. Second, as future innovations occur, they are going to happen in a FOSS context. Governments and businesses will become increasingly reliant on FOSS for efficiency and to reduce development redundancy.
Avi continues by talking about how big projects and small projects will be affected. Big projects will continue to thrive and could see cooperation between seemingly competitive sponsors. Small projects will have to adjust to become more sustainable. They are typically reliant on a small number of core contributors who are in low-funded and thankless positions. There could be a shift to see larger development bases and more commercial funding in small-scope projects, leading to a more sustainable ecosystem.
Avi then talks to Amanda Brock of OpenUK. She wants to see a transformation in how software projects are structured. Many projects live and die by a small number of core contributors whose work is critical She would like to see projects evolve to be less reliant on a certain group of individuals and rather have a larger contributor base. That will help reduce the individual burden current placed on maintainers. She specifically sees security as a risk, because many projects have insufficient eyes for proper security audits.
She also wants to see more than just programmers get involved. The OpenUK organization has “open source allies” which are people who want to help a project. They are not just programmers. They may help with documentation or spread knowledge about a project to a domain. She wants to protect the freedom to code and deploy software without liability to fuel collaboration.
Lastly, the article addresses how current economic conditions could affect the future of FOSS. Money is drying up, which could lead to enterprise divestment of resources from FOSS. VC-funded FOSS projects may also have trouble finding funding, leading to slower innovation. Many projects will die, but the ones that survive will be even more important. Yangqing Jia of Alibaba Group adds that many enterprises are reliant on FOSS now and are adopting the principles of transparency and inclusiveness in their organization. Aliyun is highly reliant on FOSS for its own success, and so he sees contributions from Aliyun to the FOSS community continuing in the volatile economy.
I like how the article addressed an audience that may not be super familiar with FOSS. Forbes is typically read by businesspeople, who may not have the strongest technology background. It is a good introduction for non-technologists to get a basic understanding of the community and the implications of it.
I also liked how the article addressed the lack of corporate support for many critical projects. The audience that is likely to read this post (corporate executives and management) likely are not very similar with how FOSS affects their business. They may also simply attribute it as a cost savings with no real business case to support. I think that it is important to transform this narrative and showcase to key stakeholders how important FOSS is to their product. I hope that management will listen to this post and offer more support.
Lastly, I like how the author handled his own commentary and the statements of the people who he talked to. I think it is important for the future of FOSS that stakeholders be given a voice and be allowed to speak authentically. This is because if their is a conflict between the interests of the community and the interests of corporate sponsors, those should be acknowledged in the open rather than having one set step on another and prohibit their message from spreading. At the same time, for the audience, I think that some additional commentary was needed. These are complex issues for a non-technical audience, and the balance helped get the point across.
I wish that the author had talked to a benevolent dictator for life of a project that is integral to enterprise success but is not sponsored. I had seen a news profile a couple of years ago about Daniel Stenberg that made me have much greater appreciation for the contributions of BDFLs. I was stunned at how little support he got given how instrumental his project is. Something like that could be influential for transforming the opinions of enterprises into supporting FOSS projects.
I also wish that he had gone more in-depth. The article was very short and only had a couple of sentences about each issue. I know that the audience likely doesn’t care that much, but I would’ve liked to see more specific examples of failures and opportunities in the FOSS community than the vague platitudes presented.
Lastly, I wish that the full interviews with the people talking were published, rather than excerpts taken. I think that there was probably a lot of interesting discussions that they could’ve had in a longer format, and I would’ve enjoyed hearing more about their experiences within the FOSS community. I understand why he did not do this for the sake of brevity, but it would’ve been interesting additional content.
I rate this post a 2/5. I think that it serves an interesting and important niche of communicating FOSS issues and opportunities to management. At the same time, it did not go in depth and could’ve been more impactful. I wish that there was greater discussion of the issues and more commentary on how it could positively or negatively affect the enterprises that rely on FOSS. It was a weird hybrid of news story and opinion piece, and I wish that it went full op-ed.
- What support specifically do FOSS maintainers need from organizations?
- How can smaller organizations support the FOSS projects that they rely on?
- How can an organization identify what FOSS projects are in their stack?