Open source software is the only way to keep up

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Allison Randal of Hewlett-Packard began her keynote for OSCON 2015 with a quotation I'd never heard:

"I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company's existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively which they could not accomplish separately. They are able to do something worthwhile—they make a contribution to society (a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental)."

Using an analogy to the speed of sound, Randal explained how open source software is progressing.

The early days of computing saw slow and steady progression. No one even thought to copyright the software under development. Not until later (specifically, the 1970s) did people begin copyrighting software.

People often thought (and, I'd say, still do) that free software would always be playing catch up—that proprietary software would always lead in innovation. But we now know this isn't the case. The fact is, as the pace of software development accelerated (around the year 2000), companies could no longer afford to purchase software licenses. Around that time, the term "open source" appeared. Randal says the name doesn't matter, however; the shift was bound to happen at that moment, regardless of what people called it.

Between 2005 and 2010, software development accelerated so quickly that some said open source had won the corporate market. But it didn't stop there. In 2015, surveys showed that companies were using, supporting, and creating more open source software.

If we look at this pattern, then we can see open source will just keep growing. It's not going anywhere. If you're not using, contributing, or supporting it, then you're going to be left behind.

Randal said the next competitive edge in open source growth is participation. Companies that participate effectively will get more out of open source and will have more successful communities.

Here's the good news: more and more companies today understand the value of open source. The bad news, however, is that many are still driven to it by economic necessity. So one of our community's greatest challenges in the coming years will be to teach these companies how to participate effectively so they can succeed.

I'm very passionate about this topic, and I'd love to hear how others are educating both the public and your companies.


This article is part of the OSCON Series for OSCON 2015. OSCON is everything open source—the full stack, with all of the languages, tools, frameworks, and best practices that you use in your work every day. OSCON 2015 will be held July 20-24 in Portland, Oregon.

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Nicole C. Baratta (Engard) is a Senior Content Strategist at Red Hat. She received her MLIS from Drexel University and her BA from Juniata College. Nicole volunteers as the Director of ChickTech Austin. Nicole is known for many different publications including her books “Library Mashups", "More Library Mashups", and "Practical Open Source Software for Libraries".


"I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. ...they make a contribution to society"

Unfortunately there are countless examples where society's interests have been subverted by the interests of corporations resulting in destruction of communities, environmental degradation, adverse health impacts, and even death for those unfortunate enough to be in the way.

It's nice to hear that Dave held such a benign view - which surely must accord with the original intent of the concept of "company" - but in this day and age the shareholder is god. Any CEO who jeopardises shareholder return for the sake of such frivolous ideas of "contributing to society" will be punished accordingly.

It has even reached the point where dim-witted and brainwashed politicians have entered into "free trade agreements" that surrender a state's sovereignty so that a corporation may sue a government that would dare to adopt policies that adversely affect shareholder returns; now politicians are putting overseas shareholder interests above those of their own citizens!

The tobacco giants have taken full advantage and have sued the Australian and British governments for introducing laws that require that cigarettes use plain packaging.

Contribution to society??? Dave must be rolling over in his grave...

almost agree with all but except when you said the stakeholders are God, no it is the CEO actually and his secretariat that take over the corporation, he is impede by legislation to act in any other way that hurts profit, and actually is bound by law and can end up in jail if he does otherwise, certainly destituted for sure. It is a Hegelian idea of giving rights to inorganic entities that originates the corporations which are (if it was a human) inmortal and crazy and have to act like that because of the profits and is bound by law. People with actions are also hurt by the CEO and his deputies if in doubt look at the salaries of millions of dollars they give to themselves.

In reply to by Aviast (not verified)

Unfortunately too many people still thinks, that main purpose for companies is making money. Otherwise, we would not have so many "money makers" but would have "thing makers" and "problem solvers" instead.

Interestingly this is happening in Openstack, OpenDaylight and OPNFV projects. Hard competitors assign developers and they code and share. Result is open to everybody. To be honest, all of them write their own closed modules. But core is still there and free. When I asked a vendor why do they share the codes with the competitiors, he said they don't have enough resources to write it all by themselves. When it is open source they assign less people and get the ideas of competitors as well.
That is fascinating.

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