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Bruce Perens, one of the founders, Open Source Software Movement

State of Open: The UK in 2022

Phase One: “The Open Source Journey”

Over the past 17 years, there has been a significant shift in businesses directing their software development budgets towards building business differentiators, relying on open source software for non-differentiating components. This transition has vastly improved the efficiency of software spending, making open source a digital public good. Despite this, the economic sustainability of open source developers remains a concern, as they often receive little direct compensation. Bruce advocates for companies to engage directly with open source projects to address this issue. While emphasising the importance of supporting open source development, he cautions against heavy handed government involvement to maintain the collaborative and decentralised nature of the open source community.

The Value of Open Source In 2022 – Thought Leadership
Bruce Perens, one of the founders, Open Source Software Movement

17 years ago, I explained the economics of Open Source Software. The fundamental economic mechanisms of Open Source still work in 2022. In 2005, most software development and acquisition in business was not business-differentiating software, the software that would make your business look better than a competitor in the eyes of the customer.

“Perhaps 90% of the software in any business is non-differentiating. Much of it is referred to as infrastructure, the base upon which [business] differentiating technology is built. In the category of infrastructure are such things [as] operating systems, web servers, databases, Java application servers and other middleware, graphical user interface desktops, and the general tools used on GUI desktops such as web browsers, email clients, spreadsheets, word processing, and presentation applications. Any software that provides differentiating value to a non-software company is built on top of one or more of those infrastructure components.”

… and I suggested that companies should take the 90% of software development and acquisition money that they spent on non-differentiators, and instead spend all of it on developing their business differentiators, and get the rest of the software that they need from the Open Source Software developer community.

That’s happened.

Of course, Open Source Software has a cost in compliance, maintenance, and integration. But to a great extent, businesses have shifted their software development budget much more strongly toward developing business differentiators, and they either pick existing Open Source Software for everything else, or they share in the development of Open Source Software, and distribute the cost and risk of development and maintenance of non-differentiating software among many companies rather than doing it all themselves.

There have been several big economic changes within business software development:

There has been tremendous increases in efficiency of business use of software development and acquisition funds. Since the advent of the Open Source movement, something like half of the total software budget in businesses has moved from things that the customer doesn’t see or care about to things that directly influence that customer. Open Source Software provides the rest.

Very many companies, institutions, and individuals now participate in a work exchange around Open Source Software, in which they contribute to software development when they need new features or to fix bugs and reap the benefit of the work of very many other people who are doing the same. Everybody gets great Open Source Software, nobody has to do too much of the work.
Open Source Software truly has become a digital public good. Like the highways, or law enforcement, but rather than being supported by taxes and carried out by government it is carried out directly by the public (and a lot more efficiently).

But while there has been a tremendous improvement in the effectiveness of the businesses software budget, and Open Source Software is obviously providing tremendous value to business, almost none of those formerly-inefficiently-directed software funds have been captured by the Open Source developers themselves.

Thus we have classical tragedies of the commons: the communications security of every web and internet connection in the world, perhaps a Trillion dollars of business, depended on the work of a guy named Ben, who wasn’t being paid by anyone. That got fixed, but similar problems exist across the Open Source Software world. And as business becomes more dependent on Open Source Software, its security becomes a matter of worldwide economic security.

I try to evangelise companies to get to know what software they use, and to work directly with those projects, as a way to resolve the issue. I ask them to look askance at the companies and organisations that get between them and the Open Source Software developers and syphon off the revenue that should go to them. Get that money directly into the hands of the developers!

Others suggest that governments should be more involved, which frankly scares me. The Internet and Open Source Software owes much of the effectiveness of its development to the fact that no one entity was in control, and thus decisions were made for purely engineering reasons rather than one company holding its own interest over that of others. Heavy-handed governance could act to dissuade the Open Source Software community, rather than assist it.

Whatever happens, it means that people like myself, and OpenUK, should be spending a lot more time with corporate boards, business and innovation organisations; with legislators and others in government – if the Open Source Software developers are to be represented.

We are in for interesting times.

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