Why Do Enterprises Use and Contribute to Open Source Software


When people find out I work at the Linux Foundation they invariably ask what we do? Sometimes it is couched around the question, As in the Linux operating system? I explain open source software and try to capture the worldwide impact into 20 seconds before I lose their attention. If they happen to stick around for more, we often dig into the question, Why would enterprises want to participate in open source software projects or use open source software? The reality is – they do, whether they know it or not. And the reality is thousands of companies donate their code to open source projects and invest time and resources helping to further develop and improve open source software.

How extensively used is open source software

To quote from our recently released report, A Guide to Enterprise Open Source, “Open source software (OSS) has transformed our world and become the backbone of our digital economy and the foundation of our digital world. From the Internet and the mobile apps we use daily to the operating systems and programming languages we use to build the future, OSS has played a vital role. It is the lifeblood of the technology industry. Today, OSS powers the digital economy and enables scientific and technological breakthroughs that improve our lives. It’s in our phones, our cars, our airplanes, our homes, our businesses, and our governments. But just over two decades ago, few people had ever heard of OSS, and its use was limited to a small group of dedicated enthusiasts.”

Open source software (OSS) has transformed our world and become the backbone of our digital economy and the foundation of our digital world.

But what does this look like practically:

In vertical software stacks across industries, open source penetration ranges from 20 to 85 percent of the overall software used
Linux fuels 90%+ of web servers and Internet-connected devices
The Android mobile operating system is built on the Linux kernel
Immensely popular libraries and tools to build web applications, such as: AMP, Appium, Dojo, jQuery, Marko, Node.js and so many more are open source
The world’s top 100 supercomputers run Linux
100% of mainframe customers use Linux
The major cloud-service providers – AWS, Google, and Microsoft – all utilize open-source software to run their services and host open-source solutions delivered through the cloud

Why do companies want to participate in open source software projects

Companies primarily participate in open source software projects in three ways:

They donate software they created to the open source community
They provide direct funding and/or allocate software developers and other staff to contribute to open source software projects

The question often asked is, why wouldn’t they want to keep all of their software proprietary or only task their employees to work on their proprietary software?

The 30,000-foot answer is that it is about organizations coming together to collectively solve common problems so they can separately innovate and differentiate on top of the common baseline. They see that they are better off pooling resources to make the baseline better. Sometimes it is called “coopetition.” It generally means that while companies may be in competition with each other in certain areas, they can still cooperate on others.

It is about organizations coming together to collectively solve common problems so they can separately innovate and differentiate

Some old-school examples of this principle:

Railroads agreed on a common track size and build so they can all utilize the same lines and equipment was interchangeable
Before digital cameras, companies innovated and differentiated on film and cameras, but they all agreed on the spacing for the sprockets to advance the film
The entertainment industry united around the VHS and Blu-Ray formats over their rivals

Now, we see companies, organizations, and individuals coming together to solve problems while simultaneously improving their businesses and products:

Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated, and open certificate authority with the goal of dramatically increasing the use of secure web protocols by making it much easier and less expensive to setup. They are serving 225+ million websites, issuing ~1.5 million certificates each day on average.
The Academy Software Foundation creates value in the film industry through collectively engineering software that powers much of the entertainment, gaming, and media industry productions and open standards needed for growth.
The Hyperledger Foundation hosts enterprise-grade blockchain software projects, notably using significantly fewer energy resources than other popular solutions.
LF Energy is making the electric grid more modular, interoperable, and scalable to help increase the use of renewable energy sources
Dronecode is enabling the development of drone software so companies can use their resources to innovate further
OpenSSF is the top technology companies coming together to strengthen the security and resiliency of open source software
Kubernetes was donated by Google and is the go-to solution for managing cloud-based software

These are just a small sampling of the open source software projects that enterprises are participating in. You can explore all of the ones hosted at the Linux Foundation here.

How can companies effectively use and participate in open source software projects?

Enterprises looking to better utilize and participate in open source projects can look to the Linux Foundation’s resources to help. Much of what organizations need to know is provided in the just-published report, A Guide to Enterprise Open Source. The report is packed with information and insights from open source leaders at top companies with decades of combined experience. It includes chapters on these topics:

Leveraging Open Source Software
Preparing the Enterprise for Open Source
Developing an Open Source Strategy
Setting Up Your Infrastructure for Implementation
Setting Up Your Talent for Success

Additionally, the Linux Foundation offers many open source training courses, events throughout the year, the LFX Platform, and hosts projects that help organizations manage open source utilization and participation, such as:

The TODO Group provides resources to setup and run an open source program office, including their extensive guides
The Openchain Project maintains an international standard for sharing what software package licenses are included in a larger package, including information on the various licensing requirements so enterprises can ensure they are complying with all of the legal requirements
The FinOps Foundation is fostering an, “evolving cloud financial management discipline and cultural practice that enables organizations to get maximum business value by helping engineering, finance, technology, and business teams to collaborate on data-driven spending decisions.”
The Software Data Package Exchange (SPDX) is an open standard for communication software bill of materials (SBOMs) so it is clear to every user which pieces of software are included in the overall package.

Again, this is just a snippet of the projects at the Linux Foundation that are working to help organizations adapt, utilize, contribute, and donate open source projects.

The bottom line: Enterprises are increasingly turning to open source software projects to solve common problems and innovate beyond the baseline, and the Linux Foundation is here to help.

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