Commentary: Open source is gathering steam, with more enterprises looking to open source program offices to improve their culture.
As an industry, we still have a long way to go with open source; however, as a positive sign of things to come, at least we may finally be thinking about it in the right way. According to new data from a survey by The New Stack co-sponsored by The Linux Foundation and VMware, over half (52%) of those surveyed either have or plan to imminently have an open source program office, with 81.3% deeming such offices a success. These offices come on the heels of organizations increasingly recognizing their need for greater open source involvement and, critically, the imperative of fostering open source culture within their enterprises.
Culture eats strategy for lunch
When I joined Novell’s early foray into open source as part of its Open Source Program Office, the primary reason it existed was to ensure open source license compliance. That was back in 2003. Fast forward 16 years and maintaining open source license compliance is the fifth-most cited reason for open source program offices to exist, according to The New Stack survey, with 58% of respondents highlighting that purpose. This is down from 68% (and second place) in 2018.
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Meanwhile, while it’s doubtful many of the 2,100-strong survey respondents had Drucker (the source of the heading above) in mind when asked to measure the success of open source program offices, it’s telling that “fostering an open source culture” is the top reason cited for open source programs to exist, at 65%. While this is down 5% points from 2018, it has kept hold of that top spot. “Open source culture” is also the number one way they measure success (Figure A).
As seen, this still somewhat hazy idea of “open source culture” is giving way to more tangible measures like “reach in open source communities” (which jumped 9% points in the last year) and “developer hiring” (up 6% points) gaining momentum. Why does it matter? Because open source matters. A lot.
While some companies say they “rarely” (8.5%) or “never” (16%) use open source in commercial products, this is increasingly hard to believe. According to the survey, 91% of enterprises use open source (the remainder “don’t know” or think they don’t, but actually do). Open source is a fact of software development–it’s no longer a question of whether organizations use open source (they do–all of them) but rather how they use it. The why has long since been answered (Figure B).
As for that question of “how,” there are still too few companies that use but don’t sell technology that are active open source participants; those that are active can serve as an example to others. Take Netflix, which last week launched Mantis (for real-time stream processing) and Polynote (simplifying data science and machine learning workflows)–two significant open source projects in one week. It’s a great way to potentially offload some of the development work for these projects, but it’s an even better way to foster its open source culture as a magnet for the best and brightest engineers.
That’s just one example, and we need more. Given the outsized benefits open source affords, it’s time for more organizations to get smart about open source. An open source program office (which just 36% of those surveyed have at their organizations) is no panacea, but can help.
Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine alone, and are not influenced by or meant to help my employer.