Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Sin in Open Source

I’ve written before about the genuine renaissance open source software represents and the vast implications that openness provides. I admitted that computer science, based on its relative unwillingness to share great ideas, has lagged behind other hard sciences in its understanding of how and where value is created.

I’ve also written about the principles of open source software and how the mere gifting of source code, while important, does not actually generate the majority of value for the community. Instead, the real value comes from adhering to the principles of open source -- transparency, participation and collaboration -- and I’ve tried to evangelize this is the real method upon which open source companies help create success.

In the past year and up until my most recent trip to Europe two weeks ago, I’ve been talking less and less about open source software – both the conceptual model and Jaspersoft’s position as a commercial open source software company. I believe I’ve had less to talk about precisely because my predictions have been realized . . . the open source model is much better understood and open source software is now more mature and acknowledged as sufficiently capable to run even in the most mission-critical environments.

Just this week, analyst Matt Aslett posted a blog about this phenomenon and the decline of open source as an identifying differentiator among top open source companies. His assessment is spot on, and in my opinion, due to the fact that open source is no longer playing defense.

For years, the conversation around open source technologies was about “is it really as reliable, as safe, as powerful and as cheap as they claim?" By and large, these conversations have become a thing of the past, and not only are we “open sourcers” ecstatic about this, it’s also given many OSS companies the time and attention to address more of our key competitive differences beyond being open source.

Recently I’ve been spending more time with open source communities. Through global travels, I’ve met with a wide number of those participating in Jaspersoft’s community as well as community members affiliated with Talend, Acquia, Red Hat (Linux and JBoss), R (the statistical analysis language/tool) and a variety of “Big Data” communities, especially Hadoop. In most of these cases, I was delighted to witness growth and vibrancy, with community members talking proudly of what they’ve done and intend to do with these great open source products.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of “sin” going on in these open source communities. What do I mean? Glad you asked.

Open source communities thrive based on the community members donating either their time and/or money. Donating money typically comes in the form of buying or subscribing to the commercial versions of the open source products. Donating time can come in a wide variety of forms, including providing technical support for one another in forums, reviewing and commenting on projects, helping to QA a release candidate, assisting in localization efforts, and of course contributing code improvements (features, bug fixes and the like).

The sin in open source comes from contributing neither one’s time nor money.

Many of the community members with whom I recently spoke admitted to using only the open source (Community Edition) versions of the software and not contributing back in any recent or relevant way to the community and its projects. That’s the sin. If you are receiving big value through the use of a valuable open source project, great, but know that contributing back to the community is necessary to help ensure that community and open source project will continue to thrive and succeed.

So this is my plea for each community member: Contribute. Participate. Collaborate. Act transparently. In a sense, each member of an open source community should embody the principles of open source. That’s what makes this a renaissance. Your contribution is required.

Brian Gentile
Chief Executive Officer