Software

Why your company needs an open source program office

Tech companies understand that they need open source program offices, but since every company is a tech company now, it's more critical than ever.

We seem to be very confused about what constitutes an "open source company." Tobie Langel has asked if Mozilla and Microsoft are open source companies. The majority (78%) think Mozilla is, and an almost equivalent percentage (67%) think Microsoft is not. Yet, Microsoft contributes orders of magnitude more open source code than Mozilla. The reality is that both organizations qualify as "open source companies." Hopefully yours does, too.

Which is why you need an open source office.

Only for the big companies?

If you think an open source program office is only for big companies, you're right. Or so the survey data would seem to suggest.

As a recent survey from The New Stack uncovers, the bigger you are, the more likely you are to have a formal open source program:

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Image: The New Stack

Perhaps even more tellingly, the more you think of yourself as a technology company, the more likely you are to have formal open source programs. How much more likely? Roughly twice as likely (77% vs. 37%), according to the survey.

SEE: Software licensing policy (Tech Pro Research)

It makes sense that larger companies would have the staff and inclination to formalize how they engage open source communities. Importantly, those companies that have open source program offices tend to use and contribute more open source code:

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Image: The New Stack

It would be tempting to think that an open source program office is a lagging indicator of open source activity, but in my experience it's actually a leading indicator, and a causal factor. As my colleagues Fil Maj and Steve Gill presented at the recent Open Source Summit in Vancouver, a good open source program can remove roadblocks to participation. We've seen Adobe go from a top-32 contributor (based on active GitHub contributors) to top-16 in a year, with a refactored contribution process a major driver to that change.

Yes, you should

Does it matter? Of course it does. Open source now drives enterprise infrastructure, big data, and more. Just as every company is now a software company, every company also needs to take data seriously. This really does mean every company, and not merely technology vendors, which is why the survey data above is so disconcerting.

SEE: IT pro's guide to working smarter with Linux (Tech Pro Research)

Technology companies may have been first to recognize just how critical it is to contribute to the projects that govern their destinies, be it Apache MxNet or Kubernetes or Apache Sling or TensorFlow, but technology companies are not the only companies whose destinies will be governed by these projects. If you work in financial services, or media and entertainment, or travel and hospitality, or any other industry, your business depends upon technology and, overwhelmingly, will depend on open source software.

Which means if you're not using and contributing, you're losing.

It also means that if you're not setting up an office to help promote and channel those open source contributions within your enterprise, you're doing it wrong or, more likely, not at all. It's easy for me to write that you need to get more involved and contribute more code, but guess what? If you set up an open source office, it's also much more likely that you'll do it.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/ElenaNichizhenova

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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