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Image: Happy Birthday, Open Source. The Term Turns 21.

On the heels of an active, productive, and up-and-down 2018, open source turns 21 this year. We can say today that open source has, undoubtedly, changed the face of software development. I would argue it’s changed more than that and yet, still has more to do to really catch up with the levels of proprietary software in use. Regardless, twenty years ago, it was purely academic and yes, perhaps considered a bit “out there” or far-reaching in its foundational purpose to “…promote the pre-existing concept of free software to business, and to certify licenses to a rule set.”

Having said that, with this major milestone in 2019, we’ve seen a level of maturity most likely not assumed it would achieve in those early years of apprehension and doubt. With that maturity has come:

  1. Resilience – 21 years and counting!
  2. Responsibility – The creation of the open source community to promote collaboration while expanding the network and enriching resources to support the tenants of open source use and distribution, as well as tools to support license compliance and risk management.
  3. Approachability – Open source use creates possibilities and allows innovation by helping people work together to leverage existing work, improve it, and share it.
  4. Growth – It’s everywhere. It’s global, and in all industries. It is the foundation of the Web, it’s in our automobiles and mobile devices, and today companies that aren’t technically selling software are companies using open source internally and in products they are distributing.

2018 set the industry up for interesting movement in 2019. First and foremost, the in-your-face idea that open source presents significant value to enterprise businesses. Proof in point, there were significant acquisitions of open source solution providers such as IBM acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion dollars, Salesforce purchased MuleSoft for $6.5 billion dollars, and Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub for $7.5 billion dollars.

Secondly, the continuing impact of open source on AI and machine learning in large technology companies across the globe. Companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are making their AI and machine learning systems open source:

  • Google TensorFlow
  • AT&T’s Acumos AI framework
  • Amazon Machine Learning
  • Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit

So, there’s beginning to be more sophistication in the marketplace, more growth, more maturity. It’s not without it’s growing pains, however, especially with more and more organizations monetizing their open source software solutions and use. Those companies, as well as SaaS companies that may not necessarily distribute a product or solution to customers, have to consider their exposure points – JavaScript, fonts, mobile applications, etc. – and begin asking the critical questions about their open source use, like what is being shipped? What open source packages are we using? Are we compliant with license obligations? Where are we using open source across the company? Are we managing our exposure to security vulnerabilities from open source packages we use in our products?

With this turning of age, there’s still a knowledge gap in what leaders know and understand about their use of open source within their own organizations as well as what is being shipped to customers. But, according to Ethan Le, director of professional services at Flexera, companies are coming to the table a lot earlier in the process for audit and scanning services. Industries are – however slowly – moving in the right direction to be more proactive about better understanding their use of open source technology. Flexera has a great maturity model framework and maturity assessment tool if you want to begin to identify where you are in your journey to open source enlightenment (tongue-in-cheek).

Please check out The State of Open Source Software: Trends to Watch in 2019 to learn more about Flexera’s views on where the industry is headed.