Proprietary software is going away, and it’s better for everyone.
Collaboration has been a key element of many triumphs throughout human history. From the Olympic games to the international space station, to the Panama Canal, great things happen when people with different perspectives work together towards a common goal.
Enter Open Source
What hasn’t seen a lot of collaboration, at least in the U.S., is the world of software. In the past decades, corporate-owned software and proprietary code have dominated the U.S. market, powering everything from mobile devices to the architecture of the world wide web. The nature of programming has been very competitive and secretive, with companies keeping their code under lock and key with patents and NDAs. In 2015, however, this began to change.
The goal of any open source language is to empower anyone to build new software and to improve and expand the language’s capabilities through collaboration. While some projects like those made by Linux and Mozilla have been open source since their inception, major software firms are finally starting to join in. Last year we saw a number of previously proprietary programming languages open up to the public. Examples include Swift: the backbone of all Apple software, Microsoft’s .Net framework, and Google’s Tensor Flow machine learning library.
With the big three tech giants joining the party, the idea of open source software seems to be gaining traction. While this may be a blow to copyright lawyers and patent trolls, many would argue that open-sourcing software makes it better for everyone. Some even argue that open source providers have "won" already.
And in a way, this is undeniably true. Software that is born open source is quickly becoming a more solid investment for growth than proprietary, dinosaur software products. As more programmers adopt a language or contribute to a project, the collaboration builds value. When a community forms around a software project, its growth is ensured by the dedication of the individuals looking to improve it. This creates sustainability and stability for the platform as a whole.
Open Source Platforms
The concept of the ‘platform’ also evolved in 2015, with the companies like Slack creating tools for developers to use their software as building blocks for more complex services, integrations with other apps, and paid add-ons. These examples describe how open source software can be built to accommodate growth and flexibility in order to adapt to an environment where change is accelerating, as well as generate revenue streams for independent developers.
The Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) Awards highlight programming tools that are making waves in the open-source world. One recent winner, the Django Python web framework is part of an increasingly open source web architecture. The web security landscape also appears to be shifting to prefer open source breach detection software like BRO (another MOSS Award winner) rather than monolithic threat prevention programs like McAfee and other proprietary security suites.
Open source platforms like Github and OpenStack are growing in popularity as programmers and engineers scramble to hop on the open source train. When software is opened up for collaboration, the capabilities of that software grow exponentially as more programmers chip in. This represents the changing nature of intellectual property in the West as described in this article about Chinese coders’ open disregard for American patents.
Ultimately, some software will always be proprietary, like the code that makes billions for major tech firms each year. But as the software world moves towards a more open future, more programs and software will be available for anyone to tinker with and build upon. This will create more opportunities for enterprises and new avenues for startups and software developers. A future that is open source contributes to a better, more democratic, and collaborative future for both the business and practice of software development.