What comes after the open source revolution?
Open source software has driven innovation and progress even in the face of an economic meltdown. Where do we go from here?
The concept of openness has existed since the dawn of humankind.
Long before the rise of open source software, many people had an
innate desire to share what they learned, in the hope that their
knowledge would help others.
Open source software was born from a similar desire. In the
1980s, early pioneers in the practice eschewed traditional
development models and established definitions and practical norms
for open source software that are still followed today. The
widespread availability of Internet connectivity starting in the
90s made large-scale collaboration more economically feasible and
dropped the marginal cost of producing software to near zero. A new
wave of developers emerged to create and contribute to open
projects, driven not by monetary rewards, but by a desire to share
their body of knowledge to solve problems and learn from their
However, it took a major economic disruption to force major
software consumers to consider using open source alternatives to
the expensive, proprietary solutions on which their businesses
were built. In the early 21st century, as the global economy
began to shrink, it was clear that all aspects of modern
civilization needed to become more efficient in the face of
dwindling resources. Companies and governments were forced to
downsize, while technology continued to advance, providing new
collaborative ways to create and distribute value. In this
environment, open source software was in a prime position to be the
driving force behind these advancements, providing low-cost
innovation in systems dominated by a few proprietary and expensive
Red Hat and Google
are two of the most prominent success stories of open source, but
many others have decided to build their solutions on the backs of
Today, open source principles and business practices are taught
in academia right alongside sound software engineering practices
(and in some cases prior to the university level, e.g., through
Code-In). This results in today’s graduating developers leaving
dusty university basements with a sound understanding of the
two-way benefits of open source, and graduating with the same
passion for learning and contributing that their predecessors
In turn, open source has become a de facto standard in many
areas of computing. Proprietary solutions are now considered an
aberration and an RFP eyebrow-raiser, thanks to open source’s
proven security, ease of maintenance, and lower entry cost. What
used to take months or years of procurement battles to get an IT
department up and running now takes a few clicks and forum posts to
create a workable solution. Armed with this body of knowledge and
experience, open source developers are increasingly being consulted
often prefer to use what they know—open source.
Recently, there have been large investments in open source as a
practice unto itself, including best practices and tools
practitioners need to create and use open source. Think
Github, LaunchPad, or
Google Code. Think Bacon’s
Community. Crowd funding sites like
Kickstarter and Pledgie can be used
to fund the creation and development of open source projects,
making it even easier to economically support open source.
Innovations through open source have helped shape the landscape
of computing over the last two decades, and are positioned to gain
even more significance as the general size of the computing
universe continues to grow at an exponential rate. Projects like
Hadoop, Cassandra, and MongoDB have been developed
collaboratively under the open source banner, providing matching
solutions to the growing problem of big data analysis.
New languages and frameworks appear almost
daily, giving developers a rich tapestry of projects and
methodologies on which to develop new software. Traditionally
proprietary vendors have also begun to embrace and invest in open
source, such as
Microsoft’s VM Depot.
Open Source has a bright future. In the process of crossing over
into mainstream use, companies (and their legal departments)
developed a much better understanding of it, including the
intellectual property issues associated with open source licensing,
proven successful open source business models, and the best ways to
interact with and provide mutual benefit to open source
communities. Open source is firmly planted in the roots of much of
today’s computing, and its principles will undoubtedly drive
software development for the foreseeable future.
James Falkner is the Community Manager at Liferay, a provider of
enterprise-class open source portals.