On Open Source Software Today

I was in a new client meeting the other day and the clients said, “and of course we want this whole thing built using open source tools.” I nodded, and assured them that we only use open source software tools at Tivix. 

Which got me thinking about how much that has changed in recent years. It used to be that corporate managers viewed open source as “risky.” Now it’s become the “safe choice.”

Earlier in my career I would have meetings with IT managers who told me of their “no open source software” policies, because it was “just too risky.” And so they continued to use (and pay big licensing fees for) technology tools from Microsoft, Sun, and IBM – companies making a fortune selling proprietary solutions. 

Since the beginning of time, enterprise IT vendors have always used FUD as part of their sales tactics.  And so when open source software first appeared on the scene in the 1990’s the big players went into action trying to scare IT managers away from it. After all, they were making a lot of money selling proprietary solutions, so they weren’t going to just stand by and let companies switch to free software tools. 

The most notorious example, of course, was when Linux first came out. Enterprise customers loved the idea that they could switch to an open source (free or nearly free) operating system for their servers, and the proprietary software vendors obviously saw it as a big threat. So they orchestrated a whole campaign against Linux, including threats of lawsuits because of (supposedly) stolen IP used inside Linux, anyone who used it might be sued, etc. Most infamously, this all culminated in the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution publishing a book called Samizdat which claimed that the Linux kernel was stolen and illegally distributed, and anyone who used it was exposing themselves to litigation. They even went so far as to say that the GNU General Public License used for open source software was “bad for the economy.” Not too surprisingly, it turned out the the organization was funded by Microsoft. 

Eventually the book was repudiated (even by Microsoft) and today Linux is one of the most widely-used open source operating systems in the world. 

So it’s funny to realize how open source software tools are embraced by pretty much everyone today, and are very much considered the “safe choice.” And the driver isn’t really that they are available with royalty-free licenses, it’s that the benefits of using standard tools that are used by and supported by a huge community around the world is the best way to future-proof software applications.