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Know it before you embrace open source

Wednesday March 15, 2017,

7 min Read

Open source has taken the world by storm; every business and professionals are embracing it. Earlier open source was just a primitive and narrowly defined idea but it has broadened its paradigm and world has realized its importance and benefits over proprietary languages. Take for example, the simple case of the Android platform for mobile development. Almost 99% of all the mobile apps are and will be supported on Android phones. More importantly start-ups have started embracing open source to get that edge over others in the market. But the question is how are they utilizing it to their advantage and how it is benefiting them?

Start-ups and open source

To know how start-ups are using open source to their advantage we need to understand what start-ups are? Start-ups are the entities with less funds and are running on enthusiasm and passion. In such cases, anyone would like to go with the easiest, fastest, cheapest, and most productive solutions. Hence, open source turns out to be the best as it provides all the above characters cheapest in terms of cost as it is free, easiest in term of accessibility and the fastest because of the continuous support. There are different types of start-ups viz, technology start-ups, product start-ups, start-ups which are mobile first, each of these will always have some open source alternative. Take for example the choice of database - apart from the few well known proprietary databases like Oracle and Microsoft SQL, the myriad of open source databases is eating into this space drastically (pun intended). MySQL, MongoDB, PostGresSQL are some of the common names among startups. These are scalable, boast of high performance and have excellent community and paid support. Operating systems like RedHat, Ubuntu and SUSE have not only a free community download available but also enterprise server editions with paid support. Hence, everyone is using open source or at-least a component of it, even bigger corporations are all embracing open source and due to this open source is no longer remained a competition for many companies but it has turned into a movement. Staying away from this movement will cause these companies to lose a lot of money. Talking about losing money, a question always arises, how are they going to lose money?

Is it Free?

Answer to this question is in this part where we will discuss about open source being free. The fact is open source is not free, you do not pay in terms of money but you pay the price in terms of usage. Hence, in case of open source one should be careful about the licences, just because the source code is available it does not mean it is free and it can be used. Being aware of what you are doing is important while using open source, but if users are unaware of what they are doing, open source is not a good idea. It is best if they need some valuation or wants to get acquired as no one is being put on risk. Open source can’t be used just because its fast. It needs to meet all the conditions of a start-up or any business i.e. cheap, fast and easy. Companies have a new business model now. RedHat and MongoDB, for example, have a free community edition that is fully featured but have enterprise support options for most companies that want it and can afford it. This gives proprietary software companies a run for their money.

Security and Monetization

For building certain solutions you must think of keeping certain parts of the source code hidden to avoid fudging of the system. There is a lot of money that can be made, but the question is how fast and how much money can be made? When we use open source we always look at the freedom and flexibility part of it but too much freedom and flexibility can be dangerous and many times back fires. Suppose there is an update and this update has been downloaded by the users without knowing having any knowledge about it then it may wreak havoc and compromise the code, here the responsibility goes to the user. In case of proprietary software, the responsibility can be put on the vendor. Therefore, quality concerns always arise out of open source code, because it is open the quality consciousness and quality responsibility is dependent on the person who is using it. Hence, this whole open source movement across the globe has made it into a giant and start-ups using open source are already in the league of giants. Companies like Blackduck have a unique business model, where they evaluate proprietary product code for intellectual property rights and check if there is any part of the source code that is copied from the open source domain without relevant permissions. There are also companies that have a service model that allows for security vulnerability and penetration testing for other companies that use open source frameworks. So, the open source ecosystem also has new means of monetization.

Following the process is the key

Lot of people put efforts to make it faster but the negative side of it is, not everything is perfect. There is a reason why operating systems are rolled out slowly because it needs to be tasted and a lot of conditions are required to be kept in mind. Ruby gets updates may be once in a year, rails gets updated every week. Rails is framework built in Ruby and if something goes wrong with rails, the system cannot be blamed rather it needs to be fixed. A system can be fixed by ensuring that the code is covered successfully with test cases. Therefore, along with open source what critically important is the process one follows. Every major successful company, has one success mantra i.e. the processes. There are a lot of methodologies for processes e.g. Agile, Kanban, Waterfall etc. using the right process and mandating it across is the key and helps a start-up become a giant.

Easy and less time consuming? No!

Open source is not less time consuming and it is a rocket science. It’s a common misconception that open source consumes less time and it’s easy which is not the case. At the top level, open source will take less time but learning the right tools is very important. An application can be built on Ruby in a weeks’ time but if the programmer doesn’t know how rails work internally then it’s a mess. Hence, investing a lot of time in understanding the framework is an important key. Thus, Open source is not a rocket science, it’s like opening the science of the rocket. If you know the science behind the rocket you can build the rocket very well.

Bottom line, open source is not here to stay but it is here to rule. If it is adopted well it will work, adopting it like a democracy will make it a failure. You need to adopt open source at a distance, I want to use it but I should know how to use it well.

Hence, start-ups are using open source to compete with giants but they need to keep many things in mind to keep up with it and have that edge over other established open source companies.

After spending more than a decade since the inception of Josh Software, the team launched another open source product ensuing a research about the challenges faced by the community people and help them measure and track coder’s contribution in Open source, in a fun, motivating and rewarding way. It is called as CodeCuriosity, where coders/users can select their own goals, namely Hikers, Mountaineers, Rovers based on the level of commitment, expertise, and time. CodeCuriosity will allow users to measure the quality and quantity of contribution made on open source repositories. The users will get points for surpassing each goal along the way. The points can be redeemed on the CodeCuriosity platform for Github and Amazon gift cards. It also has built a widget for the platforms where contribution has been made to recognize the best contributors. The platforms can use the widget to market the amount of interest the community is taking in their solution.

Gautam Rege, Co-founder, Josh Software
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