Open Source Debate

The State of Open Source – Startup, Growth, Maturity Or Decline?

Stephen O'Grady has attempted to pinpoint where open source is, in terms of the traditional organisational lifecycle stages (Startup, Growth, Maturity, Decline)in his latest blog post.

Early on, he dismisses the possibility of open source being in the Startup stage, citing both its age (according to O'Grady the term is around twelve years old) and the hefty revenue generated by projects such as Linux. However, here he runs into a problem: the success of open source cannot be measured by revenue metrics, as you might measure the success of closed software. Instead, he suggests taking a look at a project's download count, or using tools such as Google Trends.

Taking his own advice, O'Grady conducts an experiment using Google Trends, searching for several high profile open source projects and related buzzwords – to mixed results. Projects such as MySQL, Linux and Apache show a downwards trend from 2004-2010. However, Android, NoSQL and Hadoop all show a healthy upwards trend. O'Grady concludes that certain open source projects have peaked and are now in decline, in terms of popularity, but others – particularly those with a relation to the mobile or the cloud – are growing.

Stephen O'Grady believes that the success of open source in general, is having the side effect of decreasing the number of closed source startups, as it is difficult for these startups to compete with established open source alternatives. Logically then, open source adoption should only continue to increase. He also predicts that more and more companies will create software for their own needs, and open source the code in an attempt to encourage other companies to contribute and develop the code base. “It will cost more over the longer term to author software privately than it would publicly,” he states. Simon Phipps also sees this as the future of open source, reporting an increase in the number of new, collaborative projects which “involve synchronizing fragments of the interests of many, diverse participants.” This is in contrast to a project being driven by the needs of one company who are depending on selling the software, or its direct derivatives, for financial gain.

Matthew Aslett also agrees, calling this “the arrival of the fourth stage of commercial open source.” His interpretation of the history of open source, is that the first stage of open source was developed by communities of individuals and academia; while the second stage was all about vendors beginning to engage with these pre-existing developer communities. The third stage, was driven by the vendor-dominated open source development and distribution projects, which attempted to disrupt existing markets through open source licensing. Despite the “rapid growth” described by Aslett during stage three, these companies were more interested in forcing projects to develop to fit their own needs, rather than encouraging collaborative development. Matthew Aslett now predicts a return to a more collaborative environment for open source development.

Stephen O'Grady concludes that open source software may be mature in certain market segments but, overall, open source is still growing, while Aslett agrees that “this may well be the start of the golden age of open source.” And, whether it is called the fourth stage of open source, or “synchronizing fragments of the interests of many, diverse participants,” the general consensus is that moving towards a more collaborative, community-driven approach, is a positive step for open source.

Jessica Thornsby

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