Demystifying Open Source

Demystifying Open Source Blog

Here at CDD, we often get asked the question about what framework or content management system (CMS) we use to deliver projects. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution but we have a talented team of developers who always stay ahead of trends and adopt the best technologies considering the challenges and requirements of our clients. There is however one approach, one philosophy that we all truly believe in and follow. Open Source.

But what is open source?

Most of us have heard of the term but consider it as one of the industry jargon buzzwords, surrounded by mystery.

The easiest way to explain it, is by looking into the alternative. The majority of the business world, as we know it, has traditionally adopted mainstream, proprietary systems. With this sort of technology, visibility is often not allowed or encouraged and core processes of development happen behind closed doors. This not only makes it expensive to extend the platform developed, but more importantly, it makes it difficult to integrate with other solutions. Vendors, not customers, maintain control over the application.

Open source technology, on the other hand, ensures customers have control over how things work. It provides a new level of technology freedom. This philosophy is grounded on the idea of sharing and collaboration. The philosophical context of Open Source is expressed in the works of Richard Stallman and it suggests there is a lot more to Open Source than just “free software”. This is a concept of “free” as in liberty.

Definition of Open source, given by OSI (Open Source Initiative – the community-recognized body for reviewing and approving licenses), describes it as a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process.

The practice emerged in the early 80s when Unix started spreading in the academic circle, as users added their own tools to the system and shared them with colleagues.

It wasn’t until a Helsinki University student named Linus Torvalds came along, that open source was given a whole new meaning. His initial, rapid success attracted many “hackers” to help him develop Linux, a full-featured Unix with entirely free and re-distributable sources. The most important feature of Linux, however, was not technical but sociological. Until the Linux development, everyone believed that any software as complex as an operating system had to be developed in a carefully managed environment by a cohesive team. This model was, and still is typical for commercial software.

Linux evolved in a completely different way. From nearly the beginning, it was casually worked on by large numbers of volunteers coordinating only through the Internet. Quality was maintained not by rigid standards or autocracy but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days, creating a sort of rapid Darwinian natural selection on the mutations introduced by developers. To the amazement of almost everyone, this worked well. Nowadays, Linux is one of the most widely adopted operating system in the world, running almost 70% of the internet servers.

What does this all mean to you and your project?

The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower total cost of ownership and an end to the vendor lock-in.

Utilising an open source solution as a base framework for your project, there are no license fees to pay and you can extend the solution however and whenever you wish to do so.

There is an inherent flexibility, scalability and customisation options. Open source allows for tight integration with internal business systems and processes, however complex they might be.

Why is OS the best foundation for future innovation?

The answer is simple – open source is more than just an industry jargon. It is a philosophy. Open source is a paradigm and approach to problem solving, based on the idea of sharing and collaboration.

People often wonder how open source projects make money or why would people contribute their time to such projects without expecting anything in return. Karim Lakhani and Robert Wolf were amongst the first to study the effort and motivations of individuals contributing to the creation of Open Source software. Their findings contrast to the mainstream HR literature on individual motivations. Whilst most of those studies claim extrinsic rewards (e.g. money, career prospect etc.) motivate people, Lakhani and Wolf conclude that the enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, emerges as the strongest and most pervasive driver.

It is the same intrinsic motivation and altruistic behaviour that drives Social Media and Crowdsourcing. The last decade have seen a substantial growth in user-generated online content delivered through collaborative Internet outlets such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Wikipedia and more. Their rapid growth and adoption are consistent with the OS society’s vision of decreasing restrictions on the creation and delivery of previously protected information goods. User-generated content marks a new way for information to be created, manipulated, and consumed.

This trend goes beyond the concept of Open Source and content creation. A collaborative-consumption space has emerged. Disruptive platforms now allow sharing, bartering, lending, renting and gifting-of goods, skills, money, space or services – at a local, peer-to-peer level, on a scale once thought impossible.

Just as recently as 2014, the Open Source movement found a new ally and contributor in the form of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors. Musk removed all patents protecting the technology and power units of his Tesla electric cars because, in his own words “it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Cooperation and collaboration are much more than a technology phenomenon

They are deeply engraved into our biology.

According to Werner Krieglstein cooperation is part of the evolutionary design. In nature, individuals may cooperate and synchronize, and under certain conditions act as one. A new individual of higher complexity emerges, which fits Darwin’s concept of a super-organism. Such a super-organism exhibits qualities that were not present at the level of the lower grade individuals. These qualities are emergent properties that lead to an increase in complexity, which is responsible for the apparent hierarchical order in nature. Far from being a mere accidental result of random mutations, a fluke or coincidence, this process of cooperation, synchronization, and of creating super-organisms is a strategy of nature to prevent extinction. In the ongoing game of survival, nature favours cooperation over competition (Krieglstein, 2013).

The real impact on our society from this collaborative behaviour is yet to be seen but there are already many advocates who believe in openness and shared knowledge. The Open Source model is turning into the Economics of the future.