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.

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Should The Public Sector Use Open Source Software? 1/4

I was asked several questions by a journalist about open source and the public sector. I’m answering them here in sequence. This is the first of four blog posts and the first question was: Should the public sector use open source software?

The public sector and public governments should use the software that lets them provide the desired services best, long-term. How much open source software this involves is secondary, in my opinion.

That said: Like any industry, the public sector already uses substantial amounts of open source software by way of open source components built into commercial proprietary product. Estimates of the percentage of open source code in commercial products and services go as high as 80-90% of the total code. Open source is everywhere, including in Microsoft Windows and Office.

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Upcoming Talk on Industry Best Practices for Corporate Open Source Governance of Software Supply Chains at UC Santa Cruz

Abstract

Almost all software products today incorporate open source software either directly or through software supply chains, but many companies are not properly governing their use of open source, incurring potential risks. Since 2016, I have been researching industry best practices and processes around open source governance, focusing on software supply chains. I have interviewed 20+ experts from industry-leading companies to derive their best practices. We are currently implementing some of these best practices at three companies that serve as case studies for our research. In this talk I will cover the results of our study and share some best practices with you.
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My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (3/3)

The most important long-term trend, and my number #3 for the foreseeable future, is the sponsorship and management of open source software development by users, not vendors. The trend towards ubiquitous digitalization is leading users of software to take their software fate into their own hands, establishing informal communities or incorporating as non-profit user consortia to manage the development of the software they need. The Eclipse Foundation has been picking up this trend, supporting it with what they call Industry Working Groups; the Linux Foundation is also supporting this. Open source like this will not remove the need for commercial support, but it will reduce the effects of vendor lock-in, because products that are built on community open source can be switched more easily. Continue reading “My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (3/3)”

My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (2/3)

Trend #2 for 2019 in my book is making single-vendor open source, also known as the open core model a.k.a. neo-proprietary open source, work in the world of cloud computing. In this model, a software vendor goes to market using an intellectual property strategy that combines open sourcing of the product with an aggressive copyleft license. This approach nudges potential customers to moving from the free version to a paid-for proprietary version. In 2018, it visibly broke down when industry consensus emerged that cloud providers aren’t affected by copyleft licenses. Software vendors are now working on licenses that close this (so perceived) loophole. Thankfully, the Open Source Initiative remains the main arbiter of what constitutes a valid open source license. While some scoff at this business model, I think it is an important part of the overall open source community as it is the main way to channel venture capital into the creation of open source components.

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