Is there any standard for the open-source standard?


Commentary: Red Hat was once the industry’s standard for open-source success. But, the cloud has complicated matters.

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The industry’s decline in Red Hat’s impact has led to a weird, unpredictable period of open source. Brianna Wu, a Twitter user, asked older men to share their thoughts on the “structures that existed in your life to help you be a good man.” These answers included Boy Scouts. Similar questions might be asked to developers and “open-source structures…to teach how you can be a good open-source citizen.”

Red Hat was the answer to every question when I first started working in open-source. What is the best way to create a business using open-source? Red Hat was the stock answer. How can we advocate open-source code freedom? Red Hat is a good example.

Red Hat has been losing its position as the central point of the wider open source community over the past 10 years. This is not Red Hat’s fault. Instead, other institutions have taken Red Hat’s place without it being replaced. It doesn’t seem like we are any better.

How to not disappear so completely

AWS Vice President – and perhaps more relevantly for this position, former Red Hat engineer. Matt Wilson correctly identified many good open-source things that have come out of Red Hat over time. He also correctly stated that Red Hat employees, such as Kevin E. Martin, continue to advocate for FOSS graphics drivers. This has been true since 1998. Still scoring wins for the greater community.

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Red Hat is no longer the only open source success story, in code or business, however. Who is the biggest open-source contributor? Google if you define it as lines contributed to code, and Microsoft if it is defined in terms of the number of active GitHub employees. Red Hat has less active contributors than AWS, despite being much maligned. This analysis can be performed by Fil Maj, an open-source project.

It’s the same on the business side. It’s the same on the business side. The cloud providers make a lot more money using open source software than Red Hat. Russell Jurney, Deep Discovery’s CTO, has stated that the shift to cloud has fundamentally devalued open source ethos during Red Hat’s years. “The shift towards cloud computing reduces companies making direct investments into open source by several orders-of-magnitude and concentrates control over companies’ indirect investments in the hand of a few intermediaries who lack the same incentives that individual companies that ensured their ethical participation.”

While he might be correct that cloud computing has destabilized open source’s history, it is hard to see how his argument can hold up when we consider the massive investments made in open-source across the cloud landscape. This is especially true if you include companies that provide services via the cloud such as Netflix and Facebook. This is because these companies, which sell services and not software, have revenue models that make a contribution to open source much easier. Peter Levine, an open source entrepreneur and venture capitalist, once famously claimed that there would never again be another Red Hat. The industry responded with “Of course there will!” and then indifference because Red Hat wasn’t the mark of success.

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Teenage [open-source] wasteland

We don’t have a Red Hat to be our industry standard. Maybe we have many. Are we doing a good thing?

Sometimes it can be messy. “[Y]ounger developers] today are about POSS-Post open source software. **** The license and governance are just commit to github.” This was the statement of James Governor, co-founder of RedMonk, who has since gone open source licensing via GitHub. Although it’s difficult to ignore the decline in open-source code that has been intentionally licensed on GitHub, it’s not unreasonable to assume this means that developers don’t care about code openness. However, openness is about accessibility and not distribution.

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Red Hat was a leader in this area, but it wasn’t universally adopted. SugarCRM adopted CPAL in 2007. This required visible attribution (or “badgeware”) of the SugarCRM logo. It was meant to stop commercial forking. There have been many Open Core licensing approaches over the years. Although there has been much discussion about these licensing options, customers seem to not have paid much attention. There doesn’t seem to be an accepted way to do open source, whether it is post-open-source GitHub kids or quasiopen-source companies.