Open Source Software (OSS), Why Some Fail At It
OSS has won the war. It has been over for years now. Microsoft has ceded, Oracle, VMware and many others have stepped up and attempted to embrace the open source community. Sometimes they’ve been successful, sometimes they haven’t. They’re slowly changing their models to play well with that of the open source software model. Sure, some software is kept closed, but that software in large part is becoming more and more irrelevant while open source efforts are becoming the forefront of technological progress.
What exactly is open source, besides just the opening up of code for others to download? Open source covers a vastly larger ideal than merely providing code for download. A case in point, has been the learning phase Microsoft has gone through. Microsoft, as a company, used to attempt to dictate to its consumer & developer base standards and practices that the company had deemed necessary or in some cases merely a good idea.
Microsoft failed at this miserably over the last decade. Time and time again an open source project would start and Microsoft would create a duplicate library – sometimes directly taking the OSS Project exactly functionality, sometimes they’d merely duplicate it with a basic understanding. Everything from Entity Framework duplicating the functionality of the dozens of ORMs before it. Basically stabbing those efforts in the back instead of being part of the community, Microsoft would remove itself and attempt to subjugate the community efforts.
It back fired over and over and over…
Oracle did something different, yet still blindly stupid. They purchased entire OSS Projects from mySQL to Java. In each case they’ve tainted the efforts significantly by attempting to make these products encourage an unspoken lock in to their proprietary tooling all while litigating (re suing). Their attempt to patent (another issue we can discuss later) the most absurd features and functionality, akin to patenting the breathing process in people! In addition they’ve tried to set legal precedent for things as simple as a URI end point and other notions. Again, something that hasn’t gone over well in the software development world. With the current result being a growing backlash against Oracle. To top all that off, their patent cases have been far worse than even Apple’s Samsung debacle. Oracle, has taken the crown for stabbing the development community, and especially the OSS Community in the back. Multiple wounds too, not just once. They’re doing it over and over as I write this.
Others have continued to make this mistake. They’re starting to suffer for it, and well justified that they do. To stab the community is more than just merely disrespecting one or two developers. It is desecrating the entire community’s efforts, the individuals and their thoughts, ideas, creations and more. It is a slap in the face in so many ways.
Some are starting to do it right, albeit slowly…
Some companies have started to get their act together. One company that is learning right now, slowly but steadily and confidently (they have a good team working on this) is VMware. With their introduction of Cloud Foundry, some could argue this, but they have generally and are trying diligently to open up and be inclusive in the community around their Cloud Foundry Product. Yes, I might have a slightly biased view since I build products for Cloud Foundry with the Iron Foundry Organization at Tier 3, I talk to the teams & individuals at VMware and they, with all their might, intend and do the best they can. As in almost all cases, as long as management keeps everything in their heads clear, they’ll maintain a great project and the future is bright.
Microsoft is another company, with tons of closed things, many attempts at opening products, and is finally starting to get it. They’re starting to be part of the community instead of trying to dictate to it. The windows azure team directly involves itself with jQuery, Node.js and other projects these days. They actively put forth a good foot and have opened up Web API and other web application frameworks and pieces, allowing for pull requests and openly having conversations int he public for full view and inclusion with the community.
So What Really Is Open Source?
Open source software itself, just the code, is simple. But it is assumed and written into the all legal licenses that are included to protect the software from theft and closing by errant companies & individuals. Open source software is code, used as examples or as production web sites is software that is available freely to others to learn from, fix, change, or otherwise modify. It often excludes sharing and using the code with closed source environments or redistributing with closed source products – because OSS efforts do not want to encourage the bad behavior and errant ideals in closed source software by contributing to it.
Building OSS includes a very specific idealism. One doesn’t just throw something into the code, one encourages and builds a culture of openness and being free in thought when working with and contributing to the code bases. The OSS Community is about sharing ideals between individuals to accelerate learning, expand the capabilities of the community as a whole, and push forward progress and development. To summarize with a standard quote, “open source software is about freedom”, and it truly is.
So far, it’s working in a huge way. Some simple successes that have been massive…
Linux & FreeBSD pretty much hosts the Internet. From Facebook to Google to Amazon they all use some type of Linux variants. Estimates range from 60% to 93% of the Internet & Super Computing is hosted on UNIX machines of the Linux or FreeBSD variety. The notorious Microsoft Windows Server only claims 0.4% of the super computer space and about 30-37% of the Internet Server space. Summarized, the Internet runs on UNIX and specifically on variances of Linux.
When it comes to the web, not only is the majority of the web hosted on systems built by the open source community, but the web applications hosted and run on those systems are open source. The most widely used framework in the world is PHP. One of the biggest up and comers for serving websites and providing interactive web applications is Node.js, with Ruby on Rails being a stalwart for speedy prototyping and production application for thousands of businesses.
Mysql & postgresql round out two of the most heavily utilized databases in existence. Postgresql has grown from zero code to a massively capable database, regularly one-upping the stalwarts at Oracle, Microsoft or other database makers. Mysql has become the go to database for those starting a website or collecting 60 billion rows of data a day, such as New Relic. Many successful businesses have turned these databases into absolutely powerhouses that truly eclipse the need to expend the revenue on databases like SQL Server or Oracles Databases.
NoSQL has come into existence and exists today because of the community. Not everyone has a big data problem and a need for a NoSQL database, or what is sometimes called Not Only SQL these days. The open source community stepped up to build out solutions where relational databases and their history of vertically scaling falls down for modern web applications that run at larger than normal scale. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and others have helped to bring people into this fold and bring more great minds developing the open source that powers these things. This entire movement has been a huge win for the Internet and increased functionality – and the mere ability for many of the large sites to continue to exist at scale (think LinkedIn, Netflix, Facebook, etc)
O’Reilly Books is a company that does a number of things, two of which are run conferences and publish books. They’re a well respected company that encourages open source software and learning through its books, conferences and is heavily involved in supporting the individuals and community around open source software. Even though they don’t create open source software, they provide a massive boost to the ability of developers to write and create open source software by mere involvement. This is a perfect example of example from outside of software development that gains value and adds value back to the community as a whole.
That’s just a few. So really, there’s no reason to resist the freedom of open source. Ignoring or turning away from open source is like turning your back on your family, your community and those around you. There’s no reason to believe the nonsense about TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) that’s been wielded as a weapon against open source solutions. There’s no reason to listen to the FUD about “will it survive” or “what happens when X happens to the project”. There are many companies out there that will help you understand these solutions further, so the TCO argument is dead on arrival. The only path here is toward more software freedoms, preventing large companies from limiting our development options (re: Oracle suing to control API end point pathing, etc). When you do development these days, your first option and thought should be to open source “all the things”. It will help you as a developer, it will be better for you company and those that are leading the way, and it will be better for the community as a whole.
Stay relevant. Write code, individually contribute and be part of your community.