Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

Open source promises not made and broken

Using open-source software in products and projects is not a no-brainer. Like with any software, introducing a dependency on an open source component creates a lock-in that should be thought through well. All too often, people are lazy when thinking (or not thinking) through such decisions.

Case in point 1: An open source programmer on Twitter reports about an angry company demanding free commercial-grade service from the open source project. The programmer never offered this, and even cursorily thinking about introducing a dependency to software that is made available for free should make clear that commercial-grade service won’t be included. The complaining company was lazy and did not safeguard their investment (the dependency on the open source component).

Case in point 2: A bit older but chilling nevertheless, because they should have known better. With a fair bit of complaint, a well-known Apache project decided to remove its dependency on an underlying vendor-owned open source platform, because the platform relicensed away from open source. Here, the open source project had assumed that their dependency, the platform, would remain free forever, an equally unrealistic assumption like the one above about free commercial-grade service.

What gives? We need to do better. Open source has not put economics on its head. So we need to invest in education and broader understanding of how open source works, commercial or not.



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