September 13, 2016

Everyone Wins With Open Source Software

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Sam Ramji
Cloud Foundry's Sam Ramji said that open source software is a positive sum game in his keynote presentation at ApacheCon in Vancouver in May.

As open source software matures and is used by more and more major corporations, it is becoming clear that the enterprise software game has changed. Sam Ramji, CEO of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, believes that open source software is a positive sum game, as reflected in his keynote at ApacheCon in Vancouver in May.

Invoking his love of game theory, Ramji stated emphatically that open source software is a positive-sum game, where the more contributors there are to the common good, the more good there is for everyone. This idea is the opposite of a zero-sum game, where if someone benefits or wins, then another person must suffer, or lose.

Legacy software and hardware used to be a zero-sum game, thanks to the lock-in of choosing a single provider. But with the dawn of the age of cloud computing, things have begun to change.

“With a software-driven economy, the old ideas of zero-sum games no longer make sense,” Ramji said. “We need to create trust more broadly, so we can have more positive sum games. We need to update our thinking. With open source as a positive-sum game, we each have the responsibility to share what we’re learning, and bring more players into the game.”

Ramji himself said this idea is not profound for individuals; the whole open source software idea is built around many contributors adding for the benefit of the common good. But when you take that to a corporate level with major competitors contributing code to projects that could end up being used against them, you’re looking at a major shift in business thinking.

“It’s one thing for denizens of a non-software industry, like transportation or telecommunications, to decide to make software a free shared good,” Ramji said. “Software companies have always competed with each other based on software.”

What has caused that shift? More and more people who can create good software.

“The specialness of software and the price buyers are willing to pay historically has deteriorated,” Ramji said. “It used to be software was so hard that they only way you could get it was that you’d pay for proprietary software, and you’d be investing in a long term relationship with the company that had the only engineers that could change it, with phrases like ‘lock in’, and ‘the devil you know.’

“This has put significant price pressure in software industry leaders. Their corporate structure is based on the high margins that customers were willing to pay. Proprietary software, for a long time, enjoyed margins of 85 or 90 percent. When that margain gets threatened, the company’s structure gets challenged.”

The way to overcome that challenge and ensure the future of the software industry, Ramji said, is trust. And trust is built from good governance, clear sets of boundaries and rules, and enforcement of those rules.

“I think that trust, its absence, and the process for bootstrapping trust are at the heart of the current shift in the structure of the software industry,” Ramji said. “I think that shift is to non-profit foundations.”

That is why the work of foundations like Apache Software and Cloud Foundry is so important: They help large companies who have the most to contribute to open source software understand they also have the most to gain.

“Our calling here is to understand the phenomenon as best as possible, share our knowledge of the higher order, the meta structure of open source so we can get as many people as possible into this amazing game we call open source software,” Ramji said.

Watch the complete presentation below:

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