On The State of Using vs. Contributing to Open Source

Digital Ocean just published a survey of developers that indicates how companies are getting more comfortable with using open source, but remain much less comfortable with contributing to open source. Matt Asay and Chris Aniszczyk picked up on this, suggesting that open source will become more sustainable if we get those contribution numbers up. What is it that is keeping companies from letting their developers contribute?

Here is a representative experience from some recent consulting activity of mine. I asked:

So what about your open source policy?

The first manager answered:

Uh, I don’t think we have one.

The second manager:

Not true, our policy is not to do it.

The third one, somewhat puzzled:

Uhm, what about this Eclipse plug-in we are developing?

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The Challenge of Product Management in Commercial Open Source

Open source is a viable business strategy for software vendors to disrupt existing markets and conquer new ones. Just why is it easy in some markets and hard in others? I argue that you need to cut the product in such a way that there is a clear separation between what a never-paying community-user wants and what a commercial customer needs. In addition, you need to tie the commercial features closely to your company’s intellectual property and capabilities to keep competitors at bay. If you can do that, you are in the right place. If you can’t, you may want to get out of there.

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The Cardinal Sin of Commercial Open Source?

Redis is a popular open source database. Its proprietor, Redis Labs, recently announced that some add-on modules will not be open source any longer. The resulting outcry led to a defense and explanation of this decision that is telling. I have two comments and a lesson about product management of commercial open source.

The two comments are about messaging, both ways: What Redis Labs is telling the world and what the open source world is telling Redis Labs and the rest of the world.

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OpenKONSEQUENZ: Offene Software für Netzbetreiber (in German)

Consulting company PTA reports about its development of open source software for the German energy software user consortium openKONSEQUENZ, which sponsors and manages the development of open source software for the energy sector. The Netzpraxis article start out with:

Auf der openKONSEQUENZ-Plattform steht seit kurzem Unternehmen der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft das Modul »Betriebstagebuch« zur Verfügung. Da es sich bei penKONSEQUENZ um eine Genossenschaft i.G. und beim Betriebstagebuch um eine Open-Source-Lösung handelt, können es Netzbetreiber und andere interessierte Unternehmen kostenlos nutzen.

Read the full article (available as PDF).

How to Capture Open Source User Consortia 4/4

tl;dr: Existing foundations need a new kind of incubator to capture budding user consortia.

An open source user consortium is a consortium of companies who sponsor, steer, and possibly also develop open source software for their own use rather than as part of software products they sell. As explained previously, this phenomenon may not be widely understood yet, but the opportunity is large. The user consortia and their members stand to benefit, and so do those existing open source foundations that are able to capture this thrust and prevent the creation of separate consortia but rather manage to integrate these interests with their own governance structure.

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The Scope of the Opportunity 3/4

tl;dr: The scope of the opportunity at hand is large, much larger than today’s impact of open source.

The software industry is large; all other industries together that need software are larger. Much larger.

Today’s open source software is mostly serving the needs of software vendors. When you look at the projects guided by the ASF, the EF, or the LF, you’ll see a lot of infrastructure, technology, and utility components for the software industry. There are not a lot of components for application domains, be it banking, energy, logistics, or agriculture.

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Does the Incorporation Type Matter to Open Source Foundations? 2/4

tl;dr: It doesn’t really matter how a foundation incorporates; what matters is the actual governance.

A typical response to the creation of new open source foundations is to decry them as “vanity foundations”. In a few instances, that may be true, but I think as a generalization it is not correct.

Usually, companies think first before spending significant money on something, in particular if it is of high visibility and might turn into an embarrassement. This doesn’t mean they always fully understand what they are doing. In fact, I believe that the understanding of companies of what open source means to them and how they want to support and steer its development is ever evolving. After a learning period these “vanity foundations” might just end up with a project and governance structure like the ASF’s.

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The Apache Software Foundation (@TheASF) is Missing Out 1/4

tl;dr: The ASF is not serving the needs of companies from outside the software industry well.

The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is the original gold standard of open source foundations. Yet its project and governance model takes a one-size-fits-all approach that is holding beginners to such high standards that they may never get started with the ASF. Because of my high regard for the ASF, it is frustrating to me that it is missing out on a major development in the open source space. Hence this thread.

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The 120 Seconds Open Source Pitch

I often have to “sell open source” and the pitch for this is ever changing. Here is the current one; it stands at 120 seconds and is aimed at the German Mittelstand. Any feedback is appreciated!


“Software is eating the world” says a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. This is not just American hyberbole. Not only is software its own industry with its own products, it is also taking over the world of physical and other products. This is due to software being highly malleable and not being bound by physical constraints.

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