It seems to be a trend lately for companies to give back to the community through. I, for one, absolutely love this trend. I’m a huge advocate of big companies taking the initiative to contribute back to the communities where they often times pull their software or ideas from. To me, there are 3 main benefits of open source: Community, Adoption, Innovation.
Fun fact: pretty much all tech you used has some level of open source software to it. And the only way for OSS to exist is through a community. It’s incredible to see what a few people can come up with as a grassroots idea and how dense the gravity can become around them. Developers gravitate towards trying out new software and often times enjoy simplicity yet extensibility. This gives them the sandbox that many love. What you’re reading is the start of community forming where users congregate to share ideas, projects they built with the OSS code/software, use cases, their contributions back, etc. Often times these communities gain massive momentum, such as the open CMS Drupal, where you have tens of thousands of users reviewing the source code, adding unique functionality, and creating extensions of the platform. Through contributions we see huge innovation at play where users push the limits of technology into a positive direction. Once this type of momentum is generated, there comes the massive adoption phase.
The beautiful thing I love about OSS is when the adoption hits critical mass to take off. A few years ago, Spark (an Apache based cluster computing solution, also OSS) was a small scale project where the founders wanted a more simple and fast way to compute lots of data. With the rise of the big data boom, more and more users really benefited from the scalability and speed that it provided. As adoption increased significantly over the next few years, so did the diversity and stability of the code. Fast forward to today and you’ll see that Spark is now becoming the standard for truly big data solutions. It’s gained enough traction to land a commitment from IBM of over 3,500 developers to help contribute to the code base. OSS powers the world and gives all users the ability to tailor it to their needs. Through tailoring the solution to fix their problem, we often see the biggest innovations surface.
A common term among the OSS world is “forking”. No, this isn’t forking someones lawn for a prank. Rather, you can think of it as mutating the original code base to be different. Many of the core principles from the code may still be in tact, but there will often be fundamental differences. This is a critical junction for the world as this is where massive innovation happens. When we start to see users play with it to be more performant or scalable or whatever else their use case may be, we see competition happening. Through competition, innovation. The true benefit for OSS is its ability to allow for rapid disruption to take place. Back in the day, there was no easy way to just launch a database designed for handling massive amounts of data. Today, we’re in a much better spot with various version like Mahout, Hadoop, Spark, and many others that provide different types of solutions. This is what makes the OSS world so great: it provides healthy competition in which the end users (both businesses and developers) benefit from.
The cycle keeps continuing at this point to help push innovation. This isn’t limited to just software though. Other industries are starting to push proprietary IP open in an effort to contribute and drive adoption. Tesla Motors is a great example of this when the opened up their patents for use by all. With software roots and mentality in mind, I’m hoping that we’ll see more and more companies offer up unique parts of their business to become open sourced.