Welcome!

Eclipse Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, XebiaLabs Blog, Ken Fogel, Sematext Blog

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud, Linux Containers, Eclipse, Server Monitoring, Apache

Open Source Cloud: Article

Making Open Source Software

The world continues to embrace and adopt free and open source licensed software across the board

Software is surprisingly dynamic.  All software evolves.  Bugs are found and fixed.  Enhancements added.  New requirements are discovered in using the software.  New uses are found for it and it is shaped to those new uses.  Software solutions that are useful and used must by their very existence evolve.   Well organized open source software communities create the right conditions to make this dynamism successful.

The world continues to embrace and adopt free and open source licensed software across the board.  Vendors and OEMs, their IT customers, governments and academics are all using, buying and making open source software, and often all three at once.

Using and buying liberally licensed open source software, i.e., consuming such software, are relatively straight forward affairs. You buy a product based on open source licensed software pretty much the way you buy other software, evaluating the company producing the products and services against your own IT requirements and managed procurement risk profiles.  You don't procure Red Hat Linux server software differently than you historically bought Solaris or might buy Microsoft Windows Server systems.

Using open source software (as opposed to buying a product) adds additional considerations based on evaluating the strength of the community around the open source project and the costs of supporting that choice either through the development of in-house expertise (likely supported by joining the project's community) or the hiring of external expertise. You look at a project's how-to documentation and tutorials, forum and email list activity, and IRC channels.  You consider the availability of contracting support from other knowledgeable sources around the community.  These considerations really don't change whether the open source software to be used is tools and infrastructure systems or developer libraries and frameworks.  These considerations scale with use from individuals and the amount of time they have to spend solving their problem all the way up through company IT departments wanting to use open source licensed software and the time and money trade-offs they're willing to make.

Once one starts to make open source software, i.e. producing it, a different set of considerations arise.  There are really two scenarios for producing open source:

  • One can contribute to an existing project, adding value through bug fixes and new functionality (and possibly non-software contributions like documentation and translations).
  • One can start a new open source project, which means organizing the infrastructure, developing the initial software, and providing for the early community.

The motivation in the first case of contributing to an existing open source project is simple.  People generally start using open source software before they become contributors.  People use software because it solves a problem they have.   Once they use the software for a while, they will generally encounter a bug, find a change they want to make, or possibly document a new use case.  If the user is comfortable with making software changes and the project community has done a good job of making it easy to contribute, then contributions can happen.

While it would be easy to simply make the necessary change and ignore the contribution, living on a personal forked copy of the software comes at a cost.  Others' enhancements and bug fixes aren't seen and shared by installing newer versions of the software, and one needs to re-patch the software with one's own changes and fixes if one does try to move to a newer version.  It is far better to contribute one's changes back to the project community if feasible, working with the committers to ensure its contributed correctly and patched into the main development tree. The onus is on the community to make it easy to contribute, but it's on the contributor to contribute correctly.  The cost of living on a fork gets worse over time as the forked branch drifts further away from the mainline development of the project.  It is well worth the investment to contribute.

This brings us to the "making" open source software case of starting one's own project.

First, it all starts with software.  You must consider the software itself around which a project and its community is to be built.  The software must "do" something useful from the beginning.  Open source software developer communities are predominantly a discussion that starts with code, and without the code their is no discussion.  Even when a fledgling community comes together to discuss a problem first with an eye to building the solution together, sooner or later someone needs to commit to writing the first workable building software that will act as a centre of gravity for all other conversations.

If an existing body of software is to be published into an open source community then there needs to be certain considerations with respect to the ownership and licensing.  Software is covered by digital copyright and someone owns that copyright.  To publish existing software requires the owners to agree to the publication and licensing as open source.  The weight of existing code and its cultural history need to be considered, and may effect the early project community.

The crucial question becomes "why" open source?  What motivates the publication of software under an open source license?  Why share the software?  Why choose NOT to commercialize it.  (There are a number of important reasons not to commercialize or keep the software proprietary.)

The economics of collaboratively developing software is compelling.  Writing good software is hard work.  Managing the evolution of software over time is equally hard work.  Sharing good software and collaboratively developing and maintaining it distributes the costs across a group.  Publishing the software as open source, and building a development community (however small) is motivated by a desire to evolve the software and share the value and to be open to the idea that others in the community will join in sharing their domain expertise, learning the software's structure, and sharing the costs of evolution.

The economics are also asymmetric.  For a contributor the contribution may represent a small bit of expertise from the contributor (e.g. a single bug fix or particular application of an algorithm that they personally understood), but the contributor is rewarded with the community investment of the entire package of software at relatively small personal cost.  Likewise, the contribution is valuable to the software's developer (and user) community at large without necessarily carrying the costs of the contributor as a full time member in the developer community.  (Indeed a single contribution may have been the only value the contributor had to give in this instance.)

Motivation to develop an open source community to evolve the software is an essential factor, but so too are knowledge of the problem domain, and the internal knowledge of the software needed to anchor the community.  The essential motivation to share the software as open source supports the commitment and investment to maintain enough domain expertise and software knowledge to keep the community going and growing.  Without all three factors it is difficult for the community to evolve the software and thrive.

One of the first structural considerations needs to be which open source software license to attach to the project.  There are an array of licenses that have been approved by the Open Source Initiative as supporting the Open Source Definition, but there are really just a few that typically need consideration, and we'll discuss those at length in another post.  The important thing to realize when choosing a license is that it doesn't just outline the legal responsibilities for how the software is shared, but it also outlines the social contract for how the community will share.

The next structural consideration for a community is to choose a tool platform to support collaborative development. This is the hub for activity for managing source code versions, distributing built software, handling the lines of communications, and logging issues and bugs. There are a number of free forge sites (e.g., Codeplex, Google Code, GitHub, SourceForge), and the tools all exist as open source themselves if a project wanted to develop and manage its own site.

The last structural consideration involves deciding what sort of community one wants to develop.  What sort of governance will be required and when will certain things need to be instituted.  There are two very good books available in this space:

Contribution is the life blood of an open source software community.  It leads to new developers joining the project and learning enough to becoming committers with the responsibility for the code base and its builds.  Its what makes the shared economic cost work for all.  But as already stated, contributors generally start as users of the software.  This means that a project community hoping to attract contributors first needs to attract users.  The project's initial participants need to build a solid onramp for users that can then become contributors by making the software easy to "use", ensuring it's discoverable, downloadable, easily installable, and quickly configurable.

Not all users will contribute.  Some may never push the software enough to need to make a change.  It simply solves the problems they need to solve.  Of those that contribute, some will contribute in very simple ways, reporting bugs for particular use cases.   Others may contribute more, and this is where the second onramp needs to be developed by the community.  Contributors need to know what sorts of contributions are encouraged, how to contribute, and where to contribute.  If code contributions are to be encouraged, having scripts and notes on building the software and testing the baseline build make it easy for potential contributing developers to get involved.

So building an open source software project follows a pattern:

  • There needs to be useful software, at least a seed around which to build a community.
  • Motivation to share, expertise in the problem to be solved, and an understanding of the software structure will anchor an open source community. The project founder is the starting point for what will hopefully become a community.
  • The project needs to have the structural issues of license, forge, and governance sorted, even if governance becomes an evolving discussion in a growing community.
  • The community needs to build a solid onramp for users, and a second onramp for contributors.  The sooner this happens in a project's life, the faster it can build a community.

One can choose to publish software under an open source license and never build a community.  The software isn't "lost", but neither is it hardened or evolved.  It may be useful to someone that discovers it, but the dynamic aspects of software development are lost to it.  Taking the steps to encourage and build a community around the open source project sets the dynamic software engine in motion and allows the economics of collaborative development and sharing to work at its best.

More Stories By Stephen Walli

Stephen Walli has worked in the IT industry since 1980 as both customer and vendor. He is presently the technical director for the Outercurve Foundation.

Prior to this, he consulted on software business development and open source strategy, often working with partners like Initmarketing and InteropSystems. He organized the agenda, speakers and sponsors for the inaugural Beijing Open Source Software Forum as part of the 2007 Software Innovation Summit in Beijing. The development of the Chinese software market is an area of deep interest for him. He is a board director at eBox, and an advisor at Bitrock, Continuent, Ohloh (acquired by SourceForge in 2009), and TargetSource (each of which represents unique opportunities in the FOSS world). He was also the open-source-strategist-in-residence for Open Tuesday in Finland.

Stephen was Vice-president, Open Source Development Strategy at Optaros, Inc. through its initial 19 months. Prior to that he was a business development manager in the Windows Platform team at Microsoft working on community development, standards, and intellectual property concerns.

@ThingsExpo Stories
I wanted to gather all of my Internet of Things (IOT) blogs into a single blog (that I could later use with my University of San Francisco (USF) Big Data “MBA” course). However as I started to pull these blogs together, I realized that my IOT discussion lacked a vision; it lacked an end point towards which an organization could drive their IOT envisioning, proof of value, app dev, data engineering and data science efforts. And I think that the IOT end point is really quite simple…
With 15% of enterprises adopting a hybrid IT strategy, you need to set a plan to integrate hybrid cloud throughout your infrastructure. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steven Dreher, Director of Solutions Architecture at Green House Data, discussed how to plan for shifting resource requirements, overcome challenges, and implement hybrid IT alongside your existing data center assets. Highlights included anticipating workload, cost and resource calculations, integrating services on both sides...
"We are a well-established player in the application life cycle management market and we also have a very strong version control product," stated Flint Brenton, CEO of CollabNet,, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The IoT has the potential to create a renaissance of manufacturing in the US and elsewhere. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Florent Solt, CTO and chief architect of Netvibes, discussed how the expected exponential increase in the amount of data that will be processed, transported, stored, and accessed means there will be a huge demand for smart technologies to deliver it. Florent Solt is the CTO and chief architect of Netvibes. Prior to joining Netvibes in 2007, he co-founded Rift Technologi...
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
Unless your company can spend a lot of money on new technology, re-engineering your environment and hiring a comprehensive cybersecurity team, you will most likely move to the cloud or seek external service partnerships. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, revealed what you need to know when it comes to encryption in the cloud.
What are the successful IoT innovations from emerging markets? What are the unique challenges and opportunities from these markets? How did the constraints in connectivity among others lead to groundbreaking insights? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Carmen Feliciano, a Principal at AMDG, will answer all these questions and share how you can apply IoT best practices and frameworks from the emerging markets to your own business.
Basho Technologies has announced the latest release of Basho Riak TS, version 1.3. Riak TS is an enterprise-grade NoSQL database optimized for Internet of Things (IoT). The open source version enables developers to download the software for free and use it in production as well as make contributions to the code and develop applications around Riak TS. Enhancements to Riak TS make it quick, easy and cost-effective to spin up an instance to test new ideas and build IoT applications. In addition to...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
The best-practices for building IoT applications with Go Code that attendees can use to build their own IoT applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Indraneel Mitra, Senior Solutions Architect & Technology Evangelist at Cognizant, provided valuable information and resources for both novice and experienced developers on how to get started with IoT and Golang in a day. He also provided information on how to use Intel Arduino Kit, Go Robotics API and AWS IoT stack to build an application tha...
With an estimated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, several industries will begin to expand their capabilities for retaining end point data at the edge to better utilize the range of data types and sheer volume of M2M data generated by the Internet of Things. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and President of Infobright, discussed the infrastructures businesses will need to implement to handle this explosion of data by providing specific use cases for filterin...
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
Early adopters of IoT viewed it mainly as a different term for machine-to-machine connectivity or M2M. This is understandable since a prerequisite for any IoT solution is the ability to collect and aggregate device data, which is most often presented in a dashboard. The problem is that viewing data in a dashboard requires a human to interpret the results and take manual action, which doesn’t scale to the needs of IoT.
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, provided tips on how to be successful in large scale machine learning...
What does it look like when you have access to cloud infrastructure and platform under the same roof? Let’s talk about the different layers of Technology as a Service: who cares, what runs where, and how does it all fit together. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Lead Technology Evangelist at SoftLayer, an IBM company, spoke about the picture being painted by IBM Cloud and how the tools being crafted can help fill the gaps in your IT infrastructure.
"delaPlex is a software development company. We do team-based outsourcing development," explained Mark Rivers, COO and Co-founder of delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"C2M is our digital transformation and IoT platform. We've had C2M on the market for almost three years now and it has a comprehensive set of functionalities that it brings to the market," explained Mahesh Ramu, Vice President, IoT Strategy and Operations at Plasma, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.