Is the new open source standard not a standard at all?

Comment: The industry looked to Red Hat to define open source success, but the cloud has made things more complicated.

Image: Adobe Stock/WrightStudio

We’re in a strange and somewhat unpredictable time in open source that may have been caused by Red Hat’s diminishing impact on the industry over the years. On Twitter, Brianna Wu asked men over 40 to comment “structures [that] existed in your life to teach you how to be a good man. Responses included things like the Boy Scouts. A similar question could be asked of developers and “open source frameworks…to teach you how to be a good open source citizen”.

When I started using open source, the obvious answer to almost every question was “Red Hat”. What’s the right way to build an open source business? Look to Red Hat was the stock response. What is the right way to defend freedom of code in open source? Again, look at Red Hat.

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Over the past 10 years, Red Hat has lost its status as the center of the wider open source community, but not through any fault on its part; instead, other institutions displaced Red Hat’s authority without replacing it. We don’t seem to be any better for it.

How to disappear not so completely

AWS VP – and, perhaps more relevant to this post, former Red Hat engineer – Matt Wilson correctly identified a variety of good open source stuff that comes from Red Hat over the years. And he just as correctly affirmed that Red Hat employees “like Kevin E. Martin are still advocating for FOSS graphics drivers, since 1998. And still scoring victories for the community at large.”

And yet, Red Hat no longer defines open source success, whether in business or code. Biggest open source contributor? It’s Google if we define it as lines of code contributed, or Microsoft if we define it in terms of the number of active employees on GitHub. Even the much maligned AWS has more active contributors to open source than Red Hat. You can run this analysis yourself using the open source project that Fil Maj created.

On the business side, it’s a bit the same thing. The big cloud providers not only contribute more code, but they also make a lot more money with and from open source than Red Hat. Deep Discovery CTO Russell Jurney argued that it was this move to the cloud that fundamentally devalued the open source ethos that prevailed during the Red Hat years: “The move to cloud computing reduces the number of companies direct investments in open source by several orders of magnitude and concentrates corporate control indirect investments in the hands of a few intermediaries who do not have the same incentives as the individual companies who have ensured their ethical involvement.”

He may be right that the move to the cloud destabilized the way open source was built before, but it’s hard to see how his argument takes into account the fact of mega-investments in open source. across the cloud landscape, especially if we include enterprises. that provide services through the cloud like Netflix and Facebook. Those companies that sell services, not software, have revenue models that make it much easier for them to become big contributors to open source. Open source entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Levine once said there would never be another Red Hat, to which the industry initially took umbrage (“Of course there is aura!”), then showed indifference, as Red Hat was no longer the marker for success.

Teenager [open source] wasteland

Without Red Hat as an accepted standard, as an industry we don’t seem to have a North Star. Or maybe we have several. Is this a bad thing?

It can sometimes be a messy thing. “[Y]young dev[elopers] today it is POSS – Post open source software. **** licensing and governance, just commit on github. Thereby talked The co-founder of RedMonk, James Governor, therefore opted for an open source license on GitHub. It’s hard to ignore the continued decline of intentionally licensed open-source code on GitHub, though it would be unwise to think that this somehow means developers don’t care about opening code. But this openness is generally about access, not distribution.

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It’s also true that while Red Hat set a standard, it was never universally followed. In 2007, SugarCRM adopted CPAL, which required visible attribution or “badgeware” of the SugarCRM logo to prevent commercial forking. Over the years, there have been a multitude of so-called Open Core approaches to licensing. While there’s been a lot of talk about these licensing approaches, customers haven’t seemed to pay much attention to them. From post-open source GitHub children to quasi-open source companies, there doesn’t seem to be an accepted way to “go open source” anymore.

Once I thought it mattered. A lot. I’m not sure anymore.

On the one hand, I liked the clarity of the Red Hat era. On the other hand, I love experimenting with whatever this current era should be called. No, I don’t like each of these experiments, and you probably don’t either. I don’t know where we’ll land either. The new normal on the business front seems to require a fully managed cloud service to make it easier to consume open source, but we don’t seem to be anywhere near a consensus on how this should all be licensed. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Or, as Percona’s Matt Yonkovit voiced it, “The evolution and changes in open source are good, scary, disturbing and welcome.” He is right.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB and have worked for AWS, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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