Interview with Jan Wildeboer, EMEA Open Source Evangelist at Red Hat

“The Open Source Way has proven itself as the leading way to develop software solutions”

Dominik Mohilo
© Shutterstock / EFKS

The modern world of software development is characterized by open source. Today, around 80 percent of IT stacks in companies worldwide are composed of open source software (OSS). Jan Wildeboer, EMEA open source evangelist at Red Hat, explains in our interview how this has come to be, and why it would be wise to increase this figure. And not only does he go into the definition of OSS, he also clarifies the differences between free and open source software. Lastly, he introduces the new “Culture-as-a-Service” concept that he is currently developing at Red Hat.

JAXenter: Hi Jan and thanks for taking the time for the interview. At the OpenRheinMain 2019 in Darmstadt/Germany, you spoke passionately about open source. Of course, most of our readers know what open source software (OSS) is and how it all works, but can you define the term “open source” from your very personal point of view?

Jan Wildeboer: To me personally, Open Source and Free Software solutions are a natural and productive way to share knowledge in a decentralised way. It’s these essential characteristics that make open source so pervasive and advantageous. While, like any technology, more in-depth discussion points around principles, drawbacks are inevitable, the Open Source Way has proven itself as the leading way to develop software solutions.

Code is just that—code. It can not be evil or good.

In this year’s State of Enterprise Open Source: A Red Hat Report, we asked what people think about enterprise open source software. Essentially everyone (95%) agrees that enterprise open source is important. And this isn’t just according to Red Hat customers or other enterprises leading the way in adopting new technologies. A cross section of IT decision makers from enterprise-sized companies in 11 countries across many industries voiced that opinion.

SEE ALSO: Enterprise open source software is growing within innovative companies

The data also tells us that community-based open source is on the way up too. It’s risen from last year’s 16% of software usage to 19% today—and it’s projected to hit 21% in two years. Community-based open source isn’t increasing as rapidly as enterprise open source within the companies we surveyed, but it is on an upward trajectory, which proprietary software isn’t.

The use of proprietary software is plummeting. Last year, our respondents indicated that about half (55%) of the software they used was proprietary. This year, it’s 42%. Two years from now, they say proprietary software will be down to 32% of their software stacks.

Maybe it doesn’t surprise you that proprietary software is losing favour—expensive and inflexible proprietary software licenses result in high capital expenditures (CapEx) and vendor lock-in. However, the rate at which organisations are abandoning proprietary software is notable, especially given how slowly change usually comes to the enterprise software space.

JAXenter: What is the status quo of open source?

Jan Wildeboer: Open source is now at the core of almost every software stack we see. It is fair to say that without open source, the infrastructure of the modern world would be significantly less efficient and operative.

JAXenter: And how will the future look like in your opinion? In your keynote you said that about 80 percent of the software out there is open source. How is it possible to raise the percentage and why would that make sense?

Without open source, the infrastructure of the modern world would be significantly less efficient and operative.

Jan Wildeboer: To be more precise, I said that in a software-defined world, any IT stack in any company will contain around 20% of code functionality that makes a company unique. This code delivers margin and a competitive edge—and leaves 80% of functionality which is non-competitive.

Non-competitive code—the operating systems, container solutions, libraries, storage, network code—should be, and often is, open source. Sharing both knowledge and code in this 80% functionality actually lowers total cost of ownership (TCO) for any organisation and allows IT teams to share internally and externally. Bumping this usage to 90% simply makes sense for everyone.

JAXenter: Should there be something like “ethical base principles” for using data and open source software?

Jan Wildeboer: Sure, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be part of the software license, as is often proposed. Code is just that—code. It can not be evil or good; rather, it all depends on how it is used and what data is fed into it.

Who defines what is ethical and what is unethical use? My position is very clear; all open source code should be used to do good. But that decision is a moral decision, not a license definition. We should really make sure to keep these separated.

JAXenter: Open source is – especially in terms of copyright – a challenge; you might think of Oracle and Google fighting their billion dollar wars in front of the supreme court. The new GDPR may also be a wild card when using open source software. Can you explain the juristical situation for the use of OSS?

Software interfaces, in my opinion, by design are not copyrightable.

Jan Wildeboer: The fight between Oracle and Google about API protections is certainly an interesting one and I have been observing it for a long time with growing frustration. Software interfaces, in my opinion, by design are not copyrightable; they rely on the ability to operate across programs and operating systems. Without this freedom, the open source community may struggle to exercise the innovation and creativity that is necessary when developing technology-leading software modules. It is better to consider that interfaces are uncopyrightable because this maintains a clear precedent and ensures unambiguous developer expectations in the ecosystem.

JAXenter: What exactly is the difference between “free software” and “open source software”?

Jan Wildeboer: In my personal opinion—not that much anymore. There is a fundamental difference when it comes to redistribution rights, but in reality, now that Open Source and Free Software are both effectively dominant tech solutions, that difference has become almost irrelevant. Some fundamentalists will strongly disagree—that’s their freedom but for me it is a fight of the past.

JAXenter: In our conversation you mentioned that it might actually make sense in some cases to get a copyright on brand names and change the name when those projects become open source. When is this the case?

Jan Wildeboer: I am an Open Source/Free Software guy. I don’t support the “Open Core” approach (where some parts are open source and some parts are proprietary). If it is open source—how can I get commercial support, should I need it? The best approach in my opinion is the simple one; give products and projects different names—as we did with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS/Fedora. All the code is open source with differing community or commercial support, meaning IT professionals know what to expect.

So when you are a project leader and think about offering commercial services—go for it! But use a different name for the product and the project.

SEE ALSO: Red Hat fights for software freedom by filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court

JAXenter: As a last question: You are working on a new concept for Red Hat called “Culture-as-a-Service”. What does this term mean and what is it all about?

Jan Wildeboer: A lot of Red Hat customers have asked me over the years “How does Red Hat build its company culture? How can we do it more your way?” And I always felt uncomfortable about answering that, seeing how different Red Hat is compared to other companies. But then it dawned on me. It really isn’t. The main “difference” is the way we communicate in Red Hat. Being a pure open source company means we communicate in slightly different ways. There are no secrets, networking is default. We have to solve problems in reproducible and scalable ways, aiming for universal solutions. It all boils down to communication, sharing and trusting your people.

It all boils down to communication, sharing and trusting your people.

Now go back to my 80% statement. That 80% of the code in any IT stack is non-competitive. But many organisations still think they need to “own” the whole stack, even if the majority of that code is coming from outside. Culture-as-a-Service is a concept to slightly change the way we talk about all of this. A way to eliminate those inner walls and have closed feedback loops inside an organisation, with a clear and defined way to also reach out to communities and, yes, even your direct competitor to cooperate on all of those 80% parts of your stack.

And take that no-nonsense, result driven approach up to the next level in your organisation. Culture-as-a-Service is like a different set of glasses, allowing you to see a better way to get things done.

JAXenter: Thank you for the interview!

Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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