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The Need For Open Source Infrastructure To Be Open

victorb profile image Victor Bjelkholm ・2 min read

Software development today is infused with open source on mostly every level.

From your operating system, to the icons you use, open source is better than ever, keeps growing and enables more and more developers to get involved with creating something for the whole ecosystem and sometimes the whole world.

Open Source today is also a marketing tool for many companies. It's used to attract developers who normally wouldn't pay attention to your service, but since it's open source, can now not just see the source, but also help contribute new features and fixes.

That's great and all, but what does it mean when open source developers rely on closed source platforms for doing their development?

GitHub is a good example of this. GitHub is seen as the bastion of open source, where developers can collaborate and since today, even get paid to work on open source.

But long-term, I'm not sure if using GitHub as a bastion of open source, is a good idea or not.

We all want the same thing. Tools and services we can use to make our lives as developers better. But as everyone on this planet, we sometimes rush to get a short-term benefits over a long-term ones, even though working on long-term solutions is better.

The alignment between the open source ecosystem and companies who develop tools for open source, are not always as well aligned as we should demand them to be. We mostly solved this already with tools of the trade, but services are harder to make open and seems to have been left behind in favour of letting for-profit companies handle it. A recent example is the Apache Foundation dropping their own Git hosting to use GitHub instead.

But a for-profit company doesn't always have the users interest at heart. If they can improve profits while loosing just a small percent of the user-base, it might make sense for them to do it. And I don't blame them, it's a for-profit company, they have to act that way.

The services we sometimes rely on, hosting for git, our shared packages and alike, are all core infrastructure projects that when they don't operate in our favour or work how we want them to, they make our work harder to perform.

And sometimes these services for open source start out great but as their VC funding starts to run out (or the parent company need more profits to survive), they start to turn their back on their users, as the incentives are not aligned in the users favour.

With the recent additions of the GitHub Package Registry and "Sponsors", I ask all developers who rely on Open Source to tread carefully through these murky waters.

The issues of open source funding and infrastructure, are extremely important. Way too important for for-profit companies to own it. And the more power we give the companies, the less power we have to actually create open source infrastructure that people can use.

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Victor Bjelkholm

@victorb

Developer hacking on Open Registry and Open Services

Discussion

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Why is it I'm only seeing this sort of out cry over GitHub now that it's part of Microsoft and not before? It was always a private, for profit corporation. Practically no one seemed to have much of an issue with this as long as it was a startup.

At least now it has some solid financial backing. Somebody has to pay for the servers and the network and the open source projects on GitHub sure weren't paying for them.

 

One reason why more people are speaking up is the obvious misalignment between running GitHub as it's own company with it's own priorities, vs running it as a loss-leader in Microsofts suite of tools to attract developers.

But, with that said. The issue is not that GitHub is owned by Microsoft. The issue is that most open source developers depend on a for-profit entity for their core infrastructure. It doesn't matter if it's GitHub or someone else, something that we depend on should not be closed-source and run with a motive of profits.

 

I'm not seeing how what GitHub was doing before the acquisition was any less of a loss leader for its paid for products than it is under Microsoft. To think that startup GitHub was hosting open source projects for free out of the kindness of its own heart is delusional.

It's for-profit companies that make the servers. It's for-profit companies that make the network hardware. It's for-profit companies that run the networks. It's for-profit companies that run the servers. It's for-profit companies who will be doing the payment processing for monentary donations (even Bitcoin and other Blockchain transactions will run into this once things need to be paid for in real world currency). All open source projects are going to be depending on for-profit companies one way or another.

Where do you draw the line on where it's OK for open source projects to depend on for-profit companies and where is not OK? If it's not OK for small projects to take advantage of for-profit companies largesse, is it OK for the foundations to depend directly on donations from for-profit companies? If for-profit involvement is never OK, then where is the funding for all things that are only provided by for-profit companies supposed to come from? Sorry, but I much prefer having Microsoft pay for my projects hosting than having to pay for it myself, no matter what Microsoft's true intentions may be.

Why are for-profit companies even an issue, seeing as open source is not the same thing as not-for-profit?

While I agree that it would be hard to avoid the financial input of for-profit companies in the development of open source software in general, I do wonder: why aren't you prepared to pay for your own project hosting?