Allison Randal on the future of open source software development

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.

About the author

Nicole C. Baratta - 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". Nicole can be reached at