How to Maintain the Spirit of Open Source - InformationWeek
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12/27/2017
02:00 PM
Alan Clark, SUSE, and Chairman of the OpenStack Foundation
Alan Clark, SUSE, and Chairman of the OpenStack Foundation
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How to Maintain the Spirit of Open Source

As the popularity of open source grows, it's important to remember that with growth comes complexity and that being involved in open source comes with the mindset that collaboration makes the world a better place.

When open source established itself as mission critical to the enterprise 15 years ago, it was a victory for the idea that an open developer community can create amazing technology with the right support. Today’s thriving communities in enterprise open source are not lacking in resources, yet unprecedented interest poses a new set of challenges for our industry.

When I speak to my industry peers, we often talk about the balance between collaboration and governance, establishing guidelines while encouraging contributions. As our communities grow and prosper financially, this balance becomes more complex, creating an industry that strays from its founding principles, or defines new principles altogether. Both are necessary for our industry to evolve – but we must also remember the fundamentals that got us here.

My primary employer, SUSE, helped bring open source to the enterprise 25 years ago. The anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the shifting of core open source principles.  

Collaboration

A simple concept becomes more challenging to execute at scale, especially with 5.8 million developers and 331,000 organizations contributing to Github in the past 12 months. What started as smaller scale project collaboration has evolved on a macro level, where massive projects such as OpenStack, Hadoop, or Ceph develop similar technologies in parallel. On this scale, projects either rely on collaboration at the engineer level, or do not communicate at all.

Ultimately, duplicate development is wasted effort, regardless of the resources you have. Those of us at a leadership level in the open source community need to increase our communications and work to streamline similar projects that are complementary, not redundant. Collaboration at scale might be more challenging, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to harness all our resources.

Transparency

Sharing code also applies to sharing resources and vision, where commercially possible. If another division of OpenStack wants to consume our builds, for example, then we need to understand their requirements and develop a process for support and exchange of resources.

Sharing resources also involves sharing experience, successes and challenges. Many enterprise open source projects need to continue to prove their value and stability. In OpenStack, for example, our Foundation is developing use cases for open infrastructure, rooted in real-world success. If we all work for the same project, one person’s success is for all of our benefit.

Freedom

Freedom in open source is about choice – not only in the personal choices made by independent developers, but the freedom to choose a technology that interacts with others. As open source expands commercially, competitive interests can hamper this process. Ultimately, companies may practice some principles of open source (such as contribution), but do not practice providing the fundamental freedoms that open source offers. Big business has introduced a financial perspective to how open source is governed – this was an inevitable byproduct of its success. However, if companies are going to market themselves as truly open source, then those principles should extend to all aspects of their business, including their ability to interact with others and provide a collaborative environment for customer benefit.

Open source is a worldwide success, and with growth comes complexity. But most important, being involved in open source comes with the mindset that collaboration makes the world a better place. We must never forget that principle – and if we act on principle in some ways, but not others, then we forget the fundamental reasons why we’re here in the first place.

Open source will always be the greatest development model of our time. We must never forget what it means, and what it stands for.

Alan Clark is Chairman of the OpenStack Foundation & Director of Industry Initiatives, Emerging Standards and Open Source at SUSE.

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