The Three Waves of Open Source Development

This article was originally posted on Black Duck Software’s Open Source Delivers blog.

Three Waves

In the next 20 years, it will be nearly impossible to develop large-scale software or platforms without using open source software. The genie is out of the bottle, and all of the most significant digital business and innovation is happening in open source projects. Not surprisingly, with the adoption of open source, the way in which that software is being developed has changed over time as well. A macro-trend uncovered in this year’s Future of Open Source Survey seems to indicate the rise of a third wave of open source development.

The Grassroots Came First: Community-Driven Development

The first wave of open source development was overwhelmingly community-driven. If you look back on the earliest open source (and “free software” projects), it was primarily communities of developers collaborating together as individuals to build extraordinary software as a collective. This brought us amazing innovation and helped fuel alternative operating systems and the explosion of the early Internet.

Monetization Brings Open Source Breadth: Commercially-Driven Development

With the rising awareness and acceptance of open source, the next wave of development came heavily on the back of commercial entities. Technology companies working in small, focused teams developed enterprise software tools. They decided to make their code open source not solely due to a belief in the principles of freedom and innovation, but also because open source gave them a competitive lever against proprietary software companies as well as a strong marketing lever of “try before you buy” (or even more powerfully, build your business around our software and then come to us for support and services). Over the last 10 years, commercially developed open source has risen to a prominent place among open source projects, with even the largest technology companies either embracing the model or even choosing to open source previously proprietary technology.

Open Source as the Standard: Customer-Driven Development

What we’re starting to see now, however, is a whole new generation of customer-driven open source development. Non-technology companies – from large media companies to retailers, and even seemingly proprietary stalwarts like Pharma and Financial Services – are getting much more involved in open source. They are doing so as they see open source itself as the competitive advantage. They want to help shape the direction of open source projects, to accelerate their projects by tapping into the shared innovation model, and to attract the best technical talent by being a visible part of the future of software. It’s no longer the individual developer hacking away over the weekend on a pet open source project, or an individual tech company trying to gain financial benefit from being open and transparent; now more traditional organizations have embraced that technology is a critical part of what they do and so they want to actively participate in open source in order to reap the benefits.

NGINX has a number of enterprise customers for which technology is not core to what they do, but they are still aggressively contributing to projects. These companies realize it’s to their long-term benefit to actively pursue participation in open source communities.

As this emerging customer-driven development trend continues to grow, we’ll see an evolution in the commercial model around open source. When open source development was community-driven, the business model was mostly built around support and services. Then, the commercial model became focused on dual licenses, PaaS and SaaS deployments, and add-on services. This next wave will likely introduce the potential for financial sponsorship and commercial stewardship of open source projects as well. Increasingly, we’ll see large companies not just investing in open source financially, but also contributing substantial brainpower and other corporate resources to the open source projects most important to their businesses.

The most exciting times are still clearly ahead for open source.

Cover image
Cut Costs and Increase Flexibility
See why software is the ideal solution for your applications