Software

How open source repositories like GitHub are a crystal ball into vendors' software roadmaps

Open source reveals the future of code while cloud makes it immediate to use. Both make developers happy.

One of the best things about open source software is that there really are no surprises, or needn't be. For a marketing department hoping to do a "big reveal" at a conference, this probably seems more like a bug than a feature, but for those who have to actually use the software, the opaque nature of open source is tremendous.

Today we're announcing...what GitHub already told you

Take Red Hat's Wednesday announcement of the release of Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform 3.11. Red Hat touts this as blending key CoreOS technologies and expertise into its OpenShift Kubernetes platform to streamline cluster and application operations. It is that, but there's something more interesting buried or, rather, not buried, in the news.

Namely, that it isn't news at all.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

For example, when Red Hat acquired CoreOS, part of the value came from CoreOS' early expertise and upstream development work with Prometheus, a CNCF project that collects time-series data as a source for triggering alerts. Anyone hoping to guess at what was coming with OpenShift simply had to follow the relevant repositories. Perhaps the date of the release was a secret, but the product direction was not. Indeed, Red Hat is terrible at keeping product secrets...by design.

Red Hat's role, as its director of product strategy, Brian Gracely, recently highlighted, is to drive innovation in open source projects, often doing the "last mile" work necessary to turning a project into a sellable, supportable product. That moment when Red Hat feels comfortable supporting a product may be private, but its plans for doing so are very public.

Still secrets in the cloud

The cloud vendors (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) are much better at keeping product secrets and this, too, is by design. Enterprises expect a cloud service to work-as-advertised. Even Google's consumer-facing products that sit in perpetual beta are much more production-ready than a "beta" label might suggest. Why? Because there's no fiddling that a customer can do to make a cloud service work if it doesn't work. Cloud services are a black box.

SEE: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Even so, one advantage of the cloud approach is the immediacy of it. Not all vendors are good at this, but for anyone who has attended AWS re:Invent, this can be exhausting in a good way. Last year Andy Jassy had the crowd begging for a reprieve after 30 minutes of announcing massive new service after massive new service, all "available now." Given the history of software vendors promising future releases, this is a welcome change (though it was less welcome after Jassy continued to release more and more services over the course of a few hours).

In some ways, open source also has this immediacy, though in a different way. With open source you can always know exactly where a project stands. Both open source and cloud, then, are dramatically better ways to deliver software than the old world of hype (from vendors) and hope (from developers and customers that some of the announced tech would one day reach them and actually work).

It is, in short, a new era of software integrity, which is exactly what developers demand.

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Image: iStockphoto/venuestock

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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