Open source community crams itself into big tent

Can't we just get along? At a sunny California inn with hors d'oeuvres, most definitely

By Thomas Claburn in San Francisco


At the Open Source Leadership Summit in Sonoma, California, on Tuesday, members of the open source community gathered under a big tent.

It was a tent with carpeting and chandeliers at a stylish wine country inn, but a tent nonetheless, and it served as a clear metaphor for the aspirations of the community: People from diverse backgrounds working together for the benefit of all concerned, while also allowing for the creation of value and return on investment, according to those there.

Open source software is at its core about code licensing, but making open source projects work in the context of companies and contributors is about people and process.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, opened the morning's festivities with the obligatory victory lap – open source software is everywhere and continues to become more ubiquitous every year.

Linux has 100 per cent of the supercomputer market, 82 per cent of the smartphone market (Android), 90 per cent of mainframe customers, 90 per cent of the public cloud, 62 per cent of embedded systems, and is the number one internet client (Android), according to figures Zemlin presented.

"We are all stronger together," said Zemlin, even as he acknowledged the question that continues to vex companies trying to come to terms with open source, specifically, "How does anybody make any money off open source?"

The tension between community cohesion and profit potential represents a perennial concern and those partaking of open source code have to reconcile these concerns to their own satisfaction.

But the business potential of open source has been proven over and over again. It's no longer something that has to be asserted when Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and too many other major companies to name all depend on open source.

Zemlin and the other speakers on Tuesday morning took a more narrow focus, specifically on open source as an approach to project management and personal interaction.

As Marten Mickos, CEO of HackerOne, put it during his stint on stage, building a system of conflict resolution "is one of the great achievements of open source."

Mickos's message was a simple one: Security is everyone's responsibility.

That exhortation underscores another longstanding issue in open source development: Working together doesn't ensure everyone takes sufficient responsibility for code quality. We're all in this together, but only some of us get called in on weekends to patch servers.

Chen Goldberg, director of engineering at Google Cloud, took a turn presenting to celebrate the graduation of Kubernetes from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

That designation, Goldberg said, signals the maturity of the project.

While many businesses have already embraced Kubernetes, the CNCF's designation should serve to make businesses feel more comfortable adopting the container management technology.

A bit later, Maggie Pint, senior software engineering lead at Microsoft, offered an overview of how companies should manage relationships with open source project maintainers.

Her advice can be boiled down to supporting the passion of open source contributors rather than trying to steer everything toward the creation of business value.

Business value is important, she allowed, but it shouldn't define how managers relate to open source maintainers.

"Open source is love," she concluded. "And love is really flipping powerful." ®

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