These are notes related to the presentation "Community Catalysts: The Value of Open Source Community Development", to be presented by Dave Neary at the Red Hat Summit 2013, in Boston on Wednesday, June 12th, at 3:40pm EDT — if you’re at the summit be sure to attend!
Red Hat is an open source company. Everything we do is open source. We "do" open source software because we see value in it.
It’s not always obvious, however, what the value of that is to our customers. The four freedoms of the free software definition which personify open source software – the freedom to use, study, modify and share modified copies of the software – at first glance appear to benefit only participants in open source communities. If you are a customer of a company like Red Hat, does it really matter that you have access to the source code, or that you can share the software with others? Aren’t customers, in some sense, paying us to "just take care of all of that stuff?"
By using and building on open source software, we see an opportunity to offer our customers a better experience, and better value for money. Some aspects of working with open source benefit us directly, and by allowing us to provide better service, benefit our customers indirectly.
First, by engaging with a community of developers, we increase the rate of development: working as a group, we make better software faster than we could working alone. Second, because open source enables wider adoption and distribution of the software we base our products on, we’re able to "punch beyond our weight," making a bigger impact than otherwise possible. Third, open source software development has been shown to set the benchmark in secure, high quality software.
In addition, users of products built on open source software can benefit directly. You can engage the upstream developer community to influence the future direction of the software, as the NSA did with SELinux. You can start using the software for free, from the open source project, and move to a commercially supported version when you decide it’s time – paying at the point of value, as Simon Phipps has put it.
Many open source projects like OpenStack have a diversity of companies who offer services and support for them, giving you the freedom to choose a different supplier if you are unhappy with the service you are getting from your current supplier. In addition, if your supplier loses interest in a project you have come to depend on, the community may well decide to fork the project, and provide you with a compatible alternative – as happened with both LibreOffice and MariaDB. Open source is the ultimate in code escrow.
While the first-order freedoms you have as a user of open source might, at first glance, appear useful only to community activists and developers, the second-order benefits which you get by being able to see and participate in the development process, by having an open market for vendors offering support and productization of the same source code, are clear benefits to all users of the software, whether you have ever looked at a line of source code or not.