Why Open Source is Good for Your Economy (FOSSC19 Recap)

It is no secret that software is everywhere. No traditional product has remained untouched, whether the product is being produced using software or whether software is an integral part of it. As part of this wave of digitization, established vendors from outside the software industry need to avoid that someone else will reap all the profits from their products. That someone else would be software companies that supply needed components. In particular software platforms can have such network effects that their providers can reach a monopoly position so that dependent vendors who need the platform will face a diminishing profit margin.

Continue reading “Why Open Source is Good for Your Economy (FOSSC19 Recap)”

Single-Vendor Open Source at the Crossroads (Slides) #lfosls

I’ll be giving a presentation on single-vendor open source today at the Linux Foundation Open Source Leadership Summit 2019.

Abstract: Most venture capital funding in open source flows to single-vendor open source firms. With the struggles over licensing in the cloud, these companies find themselves at the crossroads: Stay true to open source or move to proprietary licenses, abandoning the goodwill and opportunities that come with open source? In this talk I will review how this business model works, discuss the challenges posed to vendors by large cloud providers, and review the options on the table.

If you liked the slides, you might like the paper as well.

Next up: Why now? And who? The struggle over single-vendor / open-core licensing.

Why Open Source is Good for Your Economy

Today, at FOSSC 2019 in Muscat, Oman, I gave a talk about the benefits of sponsoring open source software development to about anyone who isn’t the software vendor whose product is getting replaced by that open source software. These are the slides. I will be repeating the same message at the German Forschungsgipfel in March. Also, here is a slideshare version:

The Innovations of Open Source Kolloquium Talk at University of Hamburg

Update 2019-01-30: The talk slides and a video recording (local copy) are available now.


I got invited and will be presenting a talk in the colloquium of the computer science department at the University of Hamburg tomorrow, January 28th, 2019, at 17:00 Uhr. The talk topic are the innovations of open source and I will present a broad-brush account of open source as well as the industry problems and research challenges it poses. The talk is open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Why Do Episodic Volunteers Stay in FLOSS Communities?

Abstract: Successful Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects incorporate both habitual and infrequent, or episodic, contributors. Using the concept of episodic volunteering (EV) from the general volunteering literature, we derive a model consisting of five key constructs that we hypothesize affect episodic volunteers’ retention in FLOSS communities. To evaluate the model we conducted a survey and received responses from over 100 FLOSS episodic volunteers. We observe that three of the constructs (social norms, satisfaction and community commitment) are all positively associated with volunteers’ intention to remain, while the two other constructs (psychological sense of community and contributor benefit motivations) are not. Furthermore, exploratory clustering on unobserved heterogeneity suggests that there are four distinct categories of volunteers: satisfied, classic, social and obligated. Based on our findings, we offer suggestions for projects to incorporate and manage episodic volunteers, so as to better leverage this type of contributors and potentially improve projects’ sustainability.

Keywords: Community management, episodic volunteering, open source software, volunteer management

Reference: Barcomb, A., Stol KJ, Riehle, D., & Fitzgerald, B. (2019). Why Do Episodic Volunteers Stay in FLOSS Communities? In Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2019).

The paper is available as a PDF file.

Shouldn’t a Public Government Stay Out of The Software Market? 4/4

This is the last of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector. The original question was: If a government develops open source software, it becomes a vendor of that software. Shouldn’t a public government stay out of such business?

A public government that develops or sponsors the development of open source software does not automatically become a vendor of that software. Development or sponsorship only means that public funds are converted into software under an open source license. I would not advocate that a public government start providing services to a market for that software. It should leave the provision of such services to for-profit companies! If the open source software is any good and meets user needs, such businesses will spring up soon and there will not be a need by any government to provide commercial services.

What a public government can and should do is to investigate unserved needs and sponsor the initial development of software to meet those needs. Making such initial development open source means that any company can now build a business on top of the software and compete for customers. Using an open source license is an effective way of acting in the public interest without unfairly benefitting any one particular company. Sometimes such initial investment is necessary to get over the investment hump that keeps companies from servicing the unmet needs.

Start over with the first question: Should the public sector use open source software?

Should the Public Sector Consider Open Source Only For New Purchases? 3/4

This is the third of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector.

The economists have an answer for this. At any point in time should you evaluate the total life-time value of the various alternatives at hand and then chose the one that has the best value.

When making this calculation for a switch from proprietary to open source software, the switching costs have to be added to the cost of using an open source solution. It may well be the case that the open source solution, in itself, is much better than the proprietary solution, but with the switching costs added, becomes less desirable. Then, the rational choice is to stay with the proprietary solution.

This of course is maddening to open source enthusiasts, because a superior open source solution suddenly loses out to an inferior proprietary solution, because of the existing lock-in. However, this is simply economics.

Thus, the full answer is: It depends. In some cases, existing proprietary software should be replaced with open source software, and in other cases it should not.

It should be noted that switching costs are one-time costs, while cost savings through open source software are recurring. Thus, for a proprietary solution to keep winning over an open source solution, it must be significantly better and/or the switching costs quite high.

Next up: Shouldn’t a public government stay out of the software market?

Why Did Munich Drop Linux and LibreOffice for Microsoft Windows and Office? 2/4

This is the second of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector.

I was not involved with the Munich decision at all, so I can only speculate and provide the usual reasons that have been reported about why such failures happen.

First of all, it is nothing unusual if a company or a public government switches products. The particular Linux and LibreOffice implementation in Munich is somehow taken as a representative of all of open source, which is wrong. Munich bought into a particular Linux and LibreOffice and particular companies servicing it and maybe this, taken as a product, did not work as well for them as Microsoft Windows + Office.

Continue reading “Why Did Munich Drop Linux and LibreOffice for Microsoft Windows and Office? 2/4”