I can still remember the endless discussions quite well that I had 15 years ago with customers regarding the topic Open Source. Open Source was “unsafe”, “unfinished”, “un-everything”. IT departments, which, at the time, were mainly responsible for E-Business projects, couldn’t really imagine that programming code, which was accessible to all and usually free, could be of any value for their company.
Therefore, they spent enormous amounts of money for mediocre software. Especially in the CMS sector, which, like no other category, dominated the web service business in the 00s. At that time, my favorite question from clients was:
Open Source software developers were on the other side of the equation. They traced an ideological arc and regarded themselves as part of a movement, which used the Internet to free society from confining conventions.
To bring both groups closer together seemed impossible. On the other hand, it was also obvious that both sides, the customer – who usually thought in terms of economics –, and the ideologically oriented developer, needed each other in the long term. The reason is, as so often, astoundingly simple: money.
For, companies can get much more software for the same amount of money if they use Open Source- instead of proprietary software. In addition, Open Source developers have outgrown the carefree years of youth and have been and are confronted with mortgages and taking care of families. This development was foreseeable.
At the time, I had a vision of an international Open Source software service provider, which, for a variety of reasons, didn’t bear fruit, though – which is why I left my company at the time. Kian Gould, founder and CEO of AOE, hat the same plan, and a much better touch. When I joined AOE in 2012, the company already numbered some 100 employees and had projects around the globe.
It is the success story of a fantastic company, but it is also the success story of Open Source. For, the misgivings that large companies had about Open Source have nearly completely disappeared.
This does not mean, however, that proprietary software has disappeared, but the share of Open Source products has become substantial in the interim. There are serious Open Source alternatives in literally every sector of the digital economy. In many areas, Open Source-based products are market leaders.
Furthermore, the attitude of dyed-in-the-wool Open Source “community members” when it comes to money has fundamentally changed. It is understood today, that money is necessary to further develop Open Source projects.
However, this transitional process was not so simple. I experienced it first hand, when I had the idea of a commercial, operational arm in the TYPO3 community. The discussions around this idea, a company that provides professional services and marketing for the TYPO3 ecosystem for money, could not have been more diverse. I was condemned as the gravedigger of the Open Source spirit and was all but worshipped as the savior. Usually in the same workshop.
And this, even though it was already obvious in 2012 that such a construct was needed in the long run to formalize the relationship between the economy and an Open Source community, while also funneling appropriate funds for continuing development. After all, the situation at the time couldn’t have been more absurd: Even though the globally generated value for TYPO3 approached some four billion EUR annually, the TYPO3 Association only received approximately 700,000 EUR over the same time span. Far too little to promote sensible development and marketing on a global scale.
Now that the start-up TYPO3 GmbH has emerged from this idea and the first successes are apparent, it is clear that this is the right path. I believe this is how Open Source works nowadays.
If there has ever was such a thing as a battle between the Open Source- and the proprietary model, then one must conclude that Open Source has prevailed. The vast majority of proprietary software products now use open source components.
What we see, therefore, is not a “winner / loser” situation, but rather, at least that’s the way I see it, that “Open Source” and “proprietary” are slowly but surely “merging”. This can be seen in the example of how “super-proprietary” players such as Microsoft are strongly involved in the Open Source market.
One of the fundamental misunderstandings regarding Open Source software is, that is is completely free. For the longest time it was taken for granted that, if the code was free, then everything else shouldn’t cost very much. For this reason there is an adage in the Open Source world that free Open Source software isn’t “Free as in free beer”, but rather “Free as in free speech”.
This principle is becoming inreasingly diluted. Many vendors do create strict business models for their Open Source software. The traditional business model does not exist. A good thing, in my opinion.
For, I think the exchange of information is a natural need of humanity and helps all of us to advance. On the other hand, those that make these opportunities possible should also be financed appropriately. Not for simple economic reasons, but primarily for them to continue their work.
By contrast, I rarely come across reservations against Open Source software anymore. On the contrary. Usually, Open Source software is already a requirement. And that’s the way it should be.