Last week was cropped with topics around Open Source software. I want to voice my opinions here (with a bit of ranting) and hoping not to rouse many abhorrent comments from different parties and views. This blog is to create conversations, even controversial ones, but we must first agree that there will be disagreements. We must accept disagreements as part of this conversation.
In my 30 years career, Open Source has been a big part of my development and progress. The ideas of freely using (certain) software without any licensing implications and these software being openly available were not always welcomed, as they are now. I think the Open Source revolution has created an innovation movement that is still going strong, and it has not only permeated completely into the IT industry, Open Source has also now in almost every part of the technology-based industries as well. The Open Source influence is massive.
In the beginning
In the beginning, in my beginning in 1992, the availability of software and its source codes was a closed one. Coming from a VAX/VMS background (I was a system admin in my mathematics department’s mini computers), Unix liberated my thinking. The final 6 months in the university was systems programming in C, and it completely changed how I wanted my career to shape. The mantra of “Free as in Freedom” in General Public License GPL (which I got know of much later) boded well with my own tenets in life.
If closed source development models led to proprietary software and a centralized way to distributing software with license, I would count the Open Source development models as one of the earliest decentralized technology frameworks. Down with the capitalistic corporations (aka Evil Empires)!
It was certainly a wonderful and generous way to make the world that it is today. It is a better world now.
The freedom and the ubiquity started with open standards
TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is ubiquitous. So is Ethernet and many others technology frameworks that became the standards of communications today. The permissions allowed to develop and use these communication stacks made global connections possible. I remembered the days where there were other communication protocols like X.25, Frame Relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) that have also made their marks in the industry. I am not familiar if TCP/IP and other protocol standards were open sourced because they pre-dated the open source era, but the philosophy behind the freedom and the availability to implement and use these communication protocols made huge impacts in our lives.
But what if Open Source never existed? What if the closed source proprietary model won? What would the world be like right now?
I am not an expert of Open Source licenses. There are many I have come across – GPL, Apache, FreeBSD, CDDL, Mozilla et. al – and I will admit that I do not comb the terms and conditions of these licenses like a legal eagle. But one thing that sticks well in my mind is because GPL allows the modification of the source codes obtained, the licensee must also be required to provide credits to the originators of the source codes. This definitely creates the healthy development ecosystem that when done righteously, will guarantee the growth of the manufactured effect of the open sourced product.
I hear about violators of Open Source’s terms and conditions all the time. Last week was quite noted with these roguish stories, including one that I encountered personally. The big one was obviously MinIO informing that Nutanix® implementation of Nutanix® Objects has violated MinIO’s Open Source license.
Midweek, I got an unfriendly message from one organization which wanted to modify the source code of TrueNAS® SCALE at the kernel level (which is Debian Linux) and the OpenZFS filesystem to change the encryption algorithm. They said they were willing to pay for it and only use it in their own x86 servers, but when I asked them to consider to contribute to the Linux Foundation and also the OpenZFS project (because that is where the modifications of these source codes should go to), I got an accusation from the organization in question that iXsystems™ were trying to benefit more commercially by only supporting the TrueNAS® SCALE on iX’s own storage appliances, not a white box x86 hardware.
This organization, from what I understood, wanted to distribute the modified version of TrueNAS® SCALE to its agencies. I may not fully understand their intentions here but I felt that this organization did not want to participate in helping the Open Source communities by giving back the changes to the source codes they plan to modify. This presented at least to me, an attempt to circumvent the Open Source sets of ideals and philosophies.
There were plenty of other stories I have heard in the past, and I am sure I will hear of plenty more.
A tight rope
Open Source is constantly walking a tight rope. There is a grey line behind those benefitting commercially from Open Source and be those of the kindliness and the generosity of Mother Teresa. There are supporters and opponents of both sides of the divide and everything in between, but one thing remains clear to me. We have to keep the Open Source ecosystem growing and that means contributing back and give recognition to the ones, individuals and organizations, that are making the difference of us who are benefitting from Open Source.
I am a big fan of Emily Omier‘s work with Open Source. Many of her podcasts, blogs open up good conversations on Open Source. Here is a nice Youtube video of her work below:
Check out her LinkedIn profile as well.
Open Source is changing the World
We must realize by now that Open Source has changed the world of technology and many things around us. The unity of Open Source communities has given us so much that we hardly realize and recognize what Open Source has done for us. Many times, we do not even know that Open Source is there.
One thing is for sure. We cannot allow these roguish divergence to dilute and suffocate the efforts of the many people, who have poured hundreds of millions of hours of their time and financials of their money to keep growing Open Source projects.
I do not contribute to Open Source in codes. I am lousy programmer. I do not give money to Open Source communities. I have been saving every bit I can for my children’s education. But I do know humanity and part of what it takes to make the world a better place.
I am an avid advocate of Open Source.