An intro to open source and commercial open source software (COSS)
Table of contents
- What is Open Source Software? (OSS)
- History and Origin of Open Source
- What is Commercial Open Source? (COSS)
- Top 6 Myths vs Facts
- Why choose Open Source?
- The Red Hat Story
- Why is COSS the future?
- Expert Talk
“As software has eaten the world, open-source is eating software.”
It couldn’t be said better than these words by Peter Levine (General Partner, a16z). Open source isn’t just a trend and is here to stay and only grow.
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?
What is Open Source Software?
Open source is a model for building and sharing publicly. It’s built on the principle of collaboration, where people from all over the world work together to build solutions.
In simple words, open source software (OSS) refers to software that’s source code is openly available. It promotes transparency and collaboration, people can see exactly how a program works, and make their own modifications to it.
It can be accessed, viewed, edited, reviewed and improved by the community, and is not confined to just the owner or the maintainer of a project.
Wait… How is this reliable?
No conclusions just yet. The usual resistance to this model is the risks associated with it. However, another major aspect to open source software is licensing.
There are many types of licences (eg: MIT, GPL) and business models (eg: open core, subscription) that make open source viable.
What do these licenses and models do?
They add a commercial and business angle to the open source projects. A deeper dive into these is a topic for another day.
💡 Fun Fact: As of 2021, GitHub has over 54 million open source projects. This number exceeds the total number of iOS and Microsoft apps in the world!
History and Origin of Open Source
The origin of Open Source Software can be dated back to the 1900s.
The philosophy of open source is based on sharing code to push technology to new heights.
Let’s start with the term ‘Open Source’ — it was called Free Software back then. Richard Stallman (Founding Father of Free Software) was one of its founders.
In the 1950s, it was a common practice to share code for co-operative development (which also led to the foundation of the early internet.)
It was only in 1976, that software companies started restricting access to the source code.
After 1980, Richard Stallman decided to work on a new operating system — eventually leading to the renaissance of the software world with contributions from Linus Travolds and many others.
In 1999, Open Source Initiative published its first formal list of approved licenses. In 2008, Github was launched followed by the growth of open source projects — worldwide.
💡 Fun Fact: Christine Peterson created and trademarked the term ‘open source’ in place of ‘free software.’ (it was confusing, wasn’t it?)
Open Source has evolved from Free Software to Open Core to SaaS (and now COSS)
💡 Fun Fact: Without open source, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and nearly every other modern technology company wouldn’t even exist!
What is Commercial Open Source Software? (COSS)
Commercial open source software (COSS) aka Enterprise Open Source products offer the best of both worlds–proprietary and open source. There’s flexibility and scalability of open-source, with the reliability of proprietary software.
They have business models and offer enterprise features, services, support, training, integrations, certifications etc. ‘Commercial’ or ‘enterprise’ doesn’t mean it’s not open source.
A customer needs accountability and support and that’s what COSS products provide.
Commercial open source prioritises community and innovation over profits but does not disregard the importance of monetization for sustainability.
Top 6 Myths about Open Source Software
There are MANY myths and misconceptions associated with open source software. Here are some of them, versus the facts:
Myth: Open source is free of cost ❌
Fact: Open source is free from constraints* ✔️
This is one of the biggest myths in this space. The word ‘free’ from ‘free software’ was for its freedom and not cost. Yes, some projects aren’t monetized but this is not a generalized trend. There are open source tools (productized projects) with business and revenue models in place.
Myth: Open source is inferior in quality ❌
Fact: Open source is high-quality and reliable ✔️
With a large number of skilled and motivated contributors; hundreds of them auditing the code, fixing issues, pushing changes, and implementing a patch or a new version — the quality is dependable. Moreover, the commercial open source (COSS) space has certainly helped with the development of more competent, high-quality and sustainable tools.
Myth: Open source lacks support ❌
Fact: Open source is highly community-driven ✔️
Support in OSS is often questioned and usually compared with that of proprietary tools. As much as this was true initially, it’s no longer the case. The worldwide community of open source offers both, organic and paid support. There are support contracts and services in commercial open source software.
Myth: Open source is less secure ❌
Fact: Open source is secure and reliable ✔️
Software (proprietary or not) is inherently insecure. The security of a software tool is about how it’s used and managed. The good thing about open source is that many more eyes are reviewing the code to spot and fix vulnerabilities. The development cycle and newer version releases are also much faster — making it reliable.
“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
— Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux
💡 Fun fact: 89% see enterprise open source as more secure or as secure as proprietary software! (Source: Red Hat)
Myth: Open source is just for developers ❌
Fact: Non-developer open source tools also exist ✔️
Although the common perception is that open source tools are just developer-centric, it’s not entirely true. There are many end-user tools that are user-friendly and don’t need a tech background for you to adopt or use them. *For such tools — more awareness, advocacy and adoption are needed.
*Scoutflo is working toward this. :)
Myth: Open source is not scalable ❌
Fact: Open source is highly flexible and scalable ✔️
With dedicated teams, worldwide contributions and support plans in place, open source tools are all set for success. The diverse, flexible, and collaborative nature of OSS encourages innovation — making it much more scalable.
To make things better, the accountability aspect of COSS is only adding to its awesomeness! ✨
Why you should choose Open Source?
Open source software doesn’t just offer these benefits but is also highly dependable based on its other perks. The community spirit of open source fosters innovation and growth at every step.
With an increasing number of tools, OSS is getting competent with more user-friendly interface, support, training, subscription plans etc.
It’s also becoming easier and easier to adopt, set up and get started with utilising these products.
Fact: 77% of organizations increased their usage of OSS in 2021
The sustainability of good open source tools isn’t questionable anymore, especially with commercialization in place — which is what COSS encourages.
Scoutflo is working towards a future of open source (specifically COSS) that stands head-to-head with proprietary tools. The layer of commercialization allows companies to sustain and grow — with a user-first approach.
Learn more about Scoutflo’s vision here.
The Red Hat Story
Red Hat was established back in 1993. The code was readily available to download or sold in a ‘floppy disk’ for about $50. But once someone bought it, they were on their own.
In 1999, the company got listed for $3.6B on NASDAQ — but, it was still not a profitable business.
In 2002, they started talking to various organisations (mainly banks and financial institutions that used Red Hat). They realized that along with everything running and doing its job, these institutions needed accountability.
“As an enterprise, you need accountability.”
The teams in North America (in conversation with the banks on Wall Street) eventually came up with a model.
By paying a certain amount of money per year, you get needed support, accountability, updates, patches, and more. This is what we today know as RHEL — Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
The company took open source projects, turned them into products with bug fixes, security fixes, and any additional work needed.
This was the transformation of RHL (Red Hat Linux) to RHEL — that comes with a subscription.
“The subscription is a business model, open source is the software development model.”
“We are Red Hat.
The passion for a startup,
the perspective of an industry leader,
and the power of a community.”
Red Hat believes working in the open is the best way to work for the larger open source community and for technological innovation as a whole.
💡 Fun Fact: In 2019, Red Hat was sold to IBM for 34 billion dollars.
The Red Hat Why — “Open unlocks the world’s potential”
This was a preview into the humble beginnings of commercialization of open source. Red Hat pioneered the revolution of open source x the subscription economy.
Why is COSS the future?
“Software development is deeply collaborative.”
– Nat Friedman, former CEO of GitHub
The next generation of open source tools (COSS products) are not only going to stand at par with proprietary tools but possibly surpass them–given their agility and room for innovation.
In order to sustain a product, it needs a lot of effort and investment. With the nature of proprietary tools, they can’t be scaled beyond a point.
But opening up allows many people to participate and benefits everyone. Because iterative improvements bring about faster innovation at scale.
It grows the ecosystem to a point it couldn’t have reached on its own.
The future is about breaking the walls between enterprise, startup, business, and open source and building a stronger, brighter future in co-existence.
Along with these walls, it’s also about breaking the limitations of current open source (COSS) tools and helping them unlock their full potential.
Don’t just take my word. Here are some tweets by industry experts who’ve been in the tech space for decades! 🤯
— Naval Ravikant, Entrepreneur and Investor
— Peer Richelsen, Co-CEO at cal.com
— Joseph Jacks, Founder at OSS Capital
“The future for open-source software is undoubtedly bright.”
– Javier Perez, OSS Chief Evangelist
Honestly, COSS is not the next big thing. The change is already here and it’s a force to reckon with.