Recent months have seen a number of leading commentators offer serious criticism of the open source software movement as a whole, suggesting that these efforts are either doomed to fail or not worth the investment. Yet according to InfoWorld contributor Matt Asay, such criticism is often misguided, demonstrating a lack of understanding as to what lies at the heart of open source software efforts.
Criticizing the critics
Asay noted that two of the most recent attacks against open source efforts came from The New York Times' Quentin Hardy and fellow InfoWorld contributor Galen Gruman. In the latter case, Asay argued that Gruman rightfully criticizes many recent open source mobile failures. However, he fails to acknowledge that Android is, in fact, a mobile open source operating system and is also the most successful mobile OS in the world. Instead, Gruman maintained that because Android's development is primarily conducted by Google, rather than the open source community, it is somehow inherently distinct from true, traditional open source projects.
Asay explained that the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of open source projects currently take this form. OpenStack, Linux and many others originate with major companies before being offered to the open source community at large. The writer called the notion of open source projects springing forth from organic, communal, selfless developers a "mythical (and mostly false)" understanding.
Hardy, on the other hand, focused his critique on what he saw as the commercial failure of open source. Asay countered by noting that many major companies are now pulling in tremendous revenue thanks to open source software. The key point is that rather than trying to make open source directly profitable, firms are selling services and software that complement open source offerings.
The new standard
Perhaps most importantly, Asay argued that open source is, simply put, the standard method of software development now. As Mike Olson, co-founder of Cloudera, recently pointed out, companies really have no choice but to embrace open source.
"You can no longer win with a closed source platform, and you can't build a successful stand-alone company purely on open source," said Olson, the news source reported.
As a result, open source increasingly represents the standard for businesses, rather than a risky commercial venture.
Further evidence of this trend can be seen in the creation and funding of the Core Infrastructure Initiative. The CII was created to identify open source projects in need of funding to remain operational. As International Business Times contributor Joram Borenstein reported, this organization received a tremendous amount of funding from major tech-focused companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Borenstein explained that these organizations likely invested money into CII because they acknowledged the degree to which they depend on open source software. They have a financial interest in ensuring these projects remain secure and operational.
The commercialization of open source software should not be seen as controversial. On the contrary, it is well established and likely to grow further.