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Is open source (finally) growing up?

I have been working in the field of open source software since 1997-ish. Being a tech geek myself and loving computers I never understood back then why people would choose to use inferior buggy software.

I do now, and it’s called marketing. Still, in the early two thousands the term ‘open source’ caught on and popularity started to grow. Sure, at some points it was an uphill battle but after some twenty years were passed we could all look each other in the eye and say that we did it!

Look around you today. Just about every embedded system runs Linux, from TV’s to media centers. Heck, even the top 500 supercomputers in the world run mostly Linux.

In the realm of databases PostgreSQL rules big time. Every payment done through Facebook is stored on a PostgreSQL database on the site of the payment provider Adyen.

Have you taken a look at open source ERP lately? The open source Odoo system, programmed in Python, is really gaining momentum against the usual suspects. Today’s speed of doing business and optimizing business processes asks for better, faster and more agile software tools. Hence the choice for the Python programming language.

In December of 2021 a blog post caught my eye. “Open source is broken”. In it, the writer makes some valid points, pointing at underfunding of sometimes vital infrastructure. But is it all doom and gloom around the future of open source as we know it? Of course not! It is just a logical evolutionary step in its growth. Actually there was another major event surrounding this problem back in 2014.

On 7 April 2014, the “Heartbleed” bug in the OpenSSL software library was publicly disclosed and fixed. At the same time if became apparent that OpenSSL (the library that makes the difference between “http” and “https“) was extremely underfunded. Quickly the Linux Foundation stepped in and started the Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII) to fund crucial Internet infrastructure projects. But what about all these other projects? The very nice applications that are not vital to a working Internet?

Well, the response to these problems are starting to appear. Let me give you some examples:

The very popular Ardour software (to run a recording studio) only allows payed downloads of ready to install packages. Mind you, the software is still a 100% open source, but if you want to download an installer package, you have to pay. Or download and compile it yourself, that is also still an option. The developer does not ask for a lot. You can already subscribe for $1 per month. But with the popularity of the product, the numbers do add up. For him, that is. It is still nowhere near the numbers that larger companies are getting for their software.

The open source network analysis tool Ntop, uses a similar strategy. Still open source, but after installation you see a very prominent “Upgrade to Pro/Enterprise version” at the top of the screen. And some add-ons only work like demo software after which you need to buy a license (or compile stuff from scratch of course). Their source code is also still 100% open source.

The financial struggle in the open source world is no different than in the rest of the job world. People like to get paid a decent wage for their work. And it seems that offering paid packages as a convenience to the intended user is a promising direction for the future sustainability of open source projects.