Open source grew, it proliferated… and it became something that many previously proprietary-only software vendors embraced as a key means of development… but the issue of how open source software is licenced is still the stuff of some debate.
The Computer Weekly Open Source Insider team now features a series of guest posts examing in the ups & downs and ins & out of open source software licencing.
Ain’t no hobby
The idea that open source developers are college students, creating some really cool software that big organisations then exploit and don’t give anything back may have been valid 20 years ago, but not today, it’s not how things work.
Open source is now big, with major players driving innovation, like the OpenBank Project, the Banking API platform and OpenLogic.
For a working example, AT&T is (obviously) a household name and very large quoted business. The organisation provides the majority of engineering, design and architectural resource for the ONAP open source project.
ONAP is a network virtualisation orchestration product used in the telco world, big telco’s use this tool to meet their fluctuating network capacity requirements and to provide new services.
These companies will make a lot of money through using ONAP, a piece of open source software.
Are these telcos exploiting poor little AT&T? AT&T is neither poor nor little, it is doing this for a whole raft of sound commercial reasons: it gives the company control of the market, technical profile (kudos) and most importantly allows it to strongly influence the future direction of a key technology and how it is used.
In the insurance world we have OpenUnderwriter, an insurance distribution tool and ‘Lemonade’, the Home Insuretech company is debuting an open source insurance policy that it says all users can help shape.
In these examples open source is used to drive take-up and help cross borders. Lemonade specifically see the move both ways, to increase innovation with a large pool of contributors and increased customers through the improved perception of openness and trust in an industry that can be seen very much as a black box.
These motivations will be common for many of the open source development solutions out there, a lone person developing code for the betterment of humanity is no longer the norm. It’s businesses deciding they want to develop software, software that is, on the surface free, but may result in revenue, for example through consultancy, it raises their profile, makes them look good and enables them to get really good talent to work for them.
Understanding the misunderstanding
If we take a look at insurance, it should be remembered that it is a high volume, small margin business; companies setting themselves up as a tech business on the other hand, will enable them to get a higher multiplier for any planned IPO and founder exit.
To think these organisations, or any software company using open source software, are exploiting the open source providers and they should be giving back to the community, is a misunderstanding of that community.
I would argue that a lot of companies do feedback changes, look at the thriving Drupal community, thriving due to contributions from developers working for web companies; employing a Drupal master gives a web agency credibility.
Therefore, I believe, it’s a naïve perspective to think of an open source community as being vulnerable, creative types being exploited by big business.