Welcome!

Apache Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, John Mertic, Janakiram MSV

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud, Linux Containers, Eclipse, Server Monitoring, Apache

Open Source Cloud: Article

Making Open Source Software

The world continues to embrace and adopt free and open source licensed software across the board

Software is surprisingly dynamic.  All software evolves.  Bugs are found and fixed.  Enhancements added.  New requirements are discovered in using the software.  New uses are found for it and it is shaped to those new uses.  Software solutions that are useful and used must by their very existence evolve.   Well organized open source software communities create the right conditions to make this dynamism successful.

The world continues to embrace and adopt free and open source licensed software across the board.  Vendors and OEMs, their IT customers, governments and academics are all using, buying and making open source software, and often all three at once.

Using and buying liberally licensed open source software, i.e., consuming such software, are relatively straight forward affairs. You buy a product based on open source licensed software pretty much the way you buy other software, evaluating the company producing the products and services against your own IT requirements and managed procurement risk profiles.  You don't procure Red Hat Linux server software differently than you historically bought Solaris or might buy Microsoft Windows Server systems.

Using open source software (as opposed to buying a product) adds additional considerations based on evaluating the strength of the community around the open source project and the costs of supporting that choice either through the development of in-house expertise (likely supported by joining the project's community) or the hiring of external expertise. You look at a project's how-to documentation and tutorials, forum and email list activity, and IRC channels.  You consider the availability of contracting support from other knowledgeable sources around the community.  These considerations really don't change whether the open source software to be used is tools and infrastructure systems or developer libraries and frameworks.  These considerations scale with use from individuals and the amount of time they have to spend solving their problem all the way up through company IT departments wanting to use open source licensed software and the time and money trade-offs they're willing to make.

Once one starts to make open source software, i.e. producing it, a different set of considerations arise.  There are really two scenarios for producing open source:

  • One can contribute to an existing project, adding value through bug fixes and new functionality (and possibly non-software contributions like documentation and translations).
  • One can start a new open source project, which means organizing the infrastructure, developing the initial software, and providing for the early community.

The motivation in the first case of contributing to an existing open source project is simple.  People generally start using open source software before they become contributors.  People use software because it solves a problem they have.   Once they use the software for a while, they will generally encounter a bug, find a change they want to make, or possibly document a new use case.  If the user is comfortable with making software changes and the project community has done a good job of making it easy to contribute, then contributions can happen.

While it would be easy to simply make the necessary change and ignore the contribution, living on a personal forked copy of the software comes at a cost.  Others' enhancements and bug fixes aren't seen and shared by installing newer versions of the software, and one needs to re-patch the software with one's own changes and fixes if one does try to move to a newer version.  It is far better to contribute one's changes back to the project community if feasible, working with the committers to ensure its contributed correctly and patched into the main development tree. The onus is on the community to make it easy to contribute, but it's on the contributor to contribute correctly.  The cost of living on a fork gets worse over time as the forked branch drifts further away from the mainline development of the project.  It is well worth the investment to contribute.

This brings us to the "making" open source software case of starting one's own project.

First, it all starts with software.  You must consider the software itself around which a project and its community is to be built.  The software must "do" something useful from the beginning.  Open source software developer communities are predominantly a discussion that starts with code, and without the code their is no discussion.  Even when a fledgling community comes together to discuss a problem first with an eye to building the solution together, sooner or later someone needs to commit to writing the first workable building software that will act as a centre of gravity for all other conversations.

If an existing body of software is to be published into an open source community then there needs to be certain considerations with respect to the ownership and licensing.  Software is covered by digital copyright and someone owns that copyright.  To publish existing software requires the owners to agree to the publication and licensing as open source.  The weight of existing code and its cultural history need to be considered, and may effect the early project community.

The crucial question becomes "why" open source?  What motivates the publication of software under an open source license?  Why share the software?  Why choose NOT to commercialize it.  (There are a number of important reasons not to commercialize or keep the software proprietary.)

The economics of collaboratively developing software is compelling.  Writing good software is hard work.  Managing the evolution of software over time is equally hard work.  Sharing good software and collaboratively developing and maintaining it distributes the costs across a group.  Publishing the software as open source, and building a development community (however small) is motivated by a desire to evolve the software and share the value and to be open to the idea that others in the community will join in sharing their domain expertise, learning the software's structure, and sharing the costs of evolution.

The economics are also asymmetric.  For a contributor the contribution may represent a small bit of expertise from the contributor (e.g. a single bug fix or particular application of an algorithm that they personally understood), but the contributor is rewarded with the community investment of the entire package of software at relatively small personal cost.  Likewise, the contribution is valuable to the software's developer (and user) community at large without necessarily carrying the costs of the contributor as a full time member in the developer community.  (Indeed a single contribution may have been the only value the contributor had to give in this instance.)

Motivation to develop an open source community to evolve the software is an essential factor, but so too are knowledge of the problem domain, and the internal knowledge of the software needed to anchor the community.  The essential motivation to share the software as open source supports the commitment and investment to maintain enough domain expertise and software knowledge to keep the community going and growing.  Without all three factors it is difficult for the community to evolve the software and thrive.

One of the first structural considerations needs to be which open source software license to attach to the project.  There are an array of licenses that have been approved by the Open Source Initiative as supporting the Open Source Definition, but there are really just a few that typically need consideration, and we'll discuss those at length in another post.  The important thing to realize when choosing a license is that it doesn't just outline the legal responsibilities for how the software is shared, but it also outlines the social contract for how the community will share.

The next structural consideration for a community is to choose a tool platform to support collaborative development. This is the hub for activity for managing source code versions, distributing built software, handling the lines of communications, and logging issues and bugs. There are a number of free forge sites (e.g., Codeplex, Google Code, GitHub, SourceForge), and the tools all exist as open source themselves if a project wanted to develop and manage its own site.

The last structural consideration involves deciding what sort of community one wants to develop.  What sort of governance will be required and when will certain things need to be instituted.  There are two very good books available in this space:

Contribution is the life blood of an open source software community.  It leads to new developers joining the project and learning enough to becoming committers with the responsibility for the code base and its builds.  Its what makes the shared economic cost work for all.  But as already stated, contributors generally start as users of the software.  This means that a project community hoping to attract contributors first needs to attract users.  The project's initial participants need to build a solid onramp for users that can then become contributors by making the software easy to "use", ensuring it's discoverable, downloadable, easily installable, and quickly configurable.

Not all users will contribute.  Some may never push the software enough to need to make a change.  It simply solves the problems they need to solve.  Of those that contribute, some will contribute in very simple ways, reporting bugs for particular use cases.   Others may contribute more, and this is where the second onramp needs to be developed by the community.  Contributors need to know what sorts of contributions are encouraged, how to contribute, and where to contribute.  If code contributions are to be encouraged, having scripts and notes on building the software and testing the baseline build make it easy for potential contributing developers to get involved.

So building an open source software project follows a pattern:

  • There needs to be useful software, at least a seed around which to build a community.
  • Motivation to share, expertise in the problem to be solved, and an understanding of the software structure will anchor an open source community. The project founder is the starting point for what will hopefully become a community.
  • The project needs to have the structural issues of license, forge, and governance sorted, even if governance becomes an evolving discussion in a growing community.
  • The community needs to build a solid onramp for users, and a second onramp for contributors.  The sooner this happens in a project's life, the faster it can build a community.

One can choose to publish software under an open source license and never build a community.  The software isn't "lost", but neither is it hardened or evolved.  It may be useful to someone that discovers it, but the dynamic aspects of software development are lost to it.  Taking the steps to encourage and build a community around the open source project sets the dynamic software engine in motion and allows the economics of collaborative development and sharing to work at its best.

More Stories By Stephen Walli

Stephen Walli has worked in the IT industry since 1980 as both customer and vendor. He is presently the technical director for the Outercurve Foundation.

Prior to this, he consulted on software business development and open source strategy, often working with partners like Initmarketing and InteropSystems. He organized the agenda, speakers and sponsors for the inaugural Beijing Open Source Software Forum as part of the 2007 Software Innovation Summit in Beijing. The development of the Chinese software market is an area of deep interest for him. He is a board director at eBox, and an advisor at Bitrock, Continuent, Ohloh (acquired by SourceForge in 2009), and TargetSource (each of which represents unique opportunities in the FOSS world). He was also the open-source-strategist-in-residence for Open Tuesday in Finland.

Stephen was Vice-president, Open Source Development Strategy at Optaros, Inc. through its initial 19 months. Prior to that he was a business development manager in the Windows Platform team at Microsoft working on community development, standards, and intellectual property concerns.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Providing secure, mobile access to sensitive data sets is a critical element in realizing the full potential of cloud computing. However, large data caches remain inaccessible to edge devices for reasons of security, size, format or limited viewing capabilities. Medical imaging, computer aided design and seismic interpretation are just a few examples of industries facing this challenge. Rather than fighting for incremental gains by pulling these datasets to edge devices, we need to embrace the i...
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint, a leading digital experience intelligence company, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint Systems is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into your customer-critical services to help you consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed for digital business, C...
@ThingsExpo has been named the ‘Top WebRTC Influencer' by iTrend. iTrend processes millions of conversations, tweets, interactions, news articles, press releases, blog posts - and extract meaning form them and analyzes mobile and desktop software platforms used to communicate, various metadata (such as geo location), and automation tools. In overall placement, @ThingsExpo ranked as the number one ‘WebRTC Influencer' followed by @DevOpsSummit at 55th.
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Linux Academy, the foremost online Linux and cloud training platform and community, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Linux Academy was founded on the belief that providing high-quality, in-depth training should be available at an affordable price. Industry leaders in quality training, provided services, and student certification passes, its goal is to c...
In the next five to ten years, millions, if not billions of things will become smarter. This smartness goes beyond connected things in our homes like the fridge, thermostat and fancy lighting, and into heavily regulated industries including aerospace, pharmaceutical/medical devices and energy. “Smartness” will embed itself within individual products that are part of our daily lives. We will engage with smart products - learning from them, informing them, and communicating with them. Smart produc...
"What is the next step in the evolution of IoT systems? The answer is data, information, which is a radical shift from assets, from things to input for decision making," stated Michael Minkevich, VP of Technology Services at Luxoft, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions with...
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, discussed the best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, John Jelinek IV, a web developer at Linux Academy, will discuss why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex softw...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...