Memoirs of a Free / Open Source Software Veteran

In 2011, Marc Andreesen published an essay on “Why software is eating the world” in which he explained that more and more services we consume consist almost entirely of software.

  • When you walk through a city today, you notice that bank branches are disappearing because of online banking; fintech is eating the bank sector.

  • You no longer go to a Blockbuster video store if you want to watch a movie at home, you just pick a movie on Netflix. Netflix has eaten the video stores.

  • You don’t call a taxi company anymore, you find the nearest Uber driver using an app on your smartphone. That is: in countries where Uber is allowed to eat the taxi industry.

A cartoon titled “Vintage Social Networking” published by Wrong Hands in 2013 shows how our Rolodex has been replaced by LinkedIn, our phone by Skype, our friend list by Facebook, and so on.

This didn’t happen overnight. It happened –and it’s still happening– almost unnoticed, and it could very well be an irreversible process.

In his book “The New Kingmakers”, Stephen O’Grady explores four factors that allowed companies such as “the FANG of four” to disrupt existing industries and to become billion dollar companies. Note that the acronym FANG refers to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (now officially called Alphabet).

These four factors are:

  • The availability of hardware: once upon a time, computers were too expensive for the average developer. Today, we have everything we used to have on our desk —a calculator, an address book, photo albums, books, and even a telephone— in our pocket in the form of a smart phone.

  • The availability of the internet: If you want to start a business, you don’t need a brick and mortar shop anymore, you can build your shop in the cloud for pennies an hour. Speaking of the cloud: in the past, the market for products and services was geographically limited. With the advent of the world-wide web, you can now expand your market globally.

  • The availability of open source: When we look at the web or the cloud, we see that it runs almost entirely on open source software. Most of the internet infrastructure uses the open source GNU operating system with a Linux kernel. The most popular web servers, Apache and Nginx, are open source software. So are the most popular database systems, MySQL, MariaDB, MongoDB, and so on.

  • The availability of venture capital: Venture Capitalists have started to realize the importance of open source software in the early nillies. Today, they are investing in open source companies such as Acquia, GitHub, Couchbase, and many others.

Since 2007, the open source consultancy company Black Duck Software, and the Boston-based venture capital firm North Bridge Venture Partners, conduct a yearly survey titled “The Future of Open Source.” After the 2013 edition, Michael Skok, at that time general partner at North Bridge, made the following conclusion: “It's been recognized that software is eating the world; our survey points to the fact that open source is eating the software world.

The 2016 survey revealed that open source is ubiquitous. When asked for the reasons for using open source, the top answers given by the companies that were surveyed included:

  1. to speed up application development (at more than 65% of the companies), and

  2. for production infrastructure (at more than 55% of the companies).

However, the most recent survey also reveals that nearly half of these companies have no formal policy for selecting and approving open source code, while nearly half of the companies who do have policies, either don’t enforce them, or the policies can be bypassed. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done in the field of open source software compliance.

Once one realizes that open source software is eating the world, it’s important to understand the impact of this evolution, especially from a legal point of view. It is my goal to write a series of articles that

  • help companies who want to develop open source policies and procedures,
  • guide lawyers through the different open source licensing models, and
  • inform developers about best practices when using open source.

These articles should help you understand why open source is important for you, and how you can use open source software correctly.