Case for Open Source Software for the Enterprise

Table of Contents

  1. - Treading down the memory lane
  2. - The place for Open Source Software (OSS) in this Information Technology Renaissance we are witnessing
  3. - The Ethos - What is great about Open Source Software
  4. - Proprietary Software = Open Source ++
  5. - Rise of open source across the spectrum
  6. - Why OSS is desirable for enterprises than closed source
  7. - Biggest Myth Buster: Open Source is NOT Free Software
  8. - The rise of Commercial OSS (COSS) Model - Open Source emerging as a viable software distribution model
  9. - Conclusion & and a look into the future
Source: Unsplash

Treading down the memory lane

Software is more ubiquitous now than ever and it is a fair statement to say that software touches all aspects of our known world. Our dependence on software through the various touchpoints such as the internet, app subscriptions we rely on has a heightened relevance almost equal to basic daily necessities like food, water or power. Software has infused almost all industries, orgs and institutions, and how we interact with our world for almost everything (Paying bills, learning, entertainment, communications what not) The phrase - “Software is eating the world” is no longer far-fetched.

Rewinding a bit to back trace the evolution of software and the industry as it stands today (Not intending to trace back the software industry from the Dinosaur era, though.😀)

Earliest recollection known to our generation is the client server computing. Then the main-frame era where software found its application in the business world (what we now know of as a headless backend as a service fundamentally).

The mainstream adoption of software in the consumer space was championed by IBM & Microsoft as a result of the PC and Microsoft Windows operating systems coming together which made software accessible to the end-user through intuitve MS Windows OS user interfaces.

Then in the 1990s with World Wide Web (www) getting popular, http protocol, and the web browser we saw the dot com boom that accelerated the growth and adoption of the technology globally and as we stand today, from now and then - the industry has witnessed many inflection points and revolutionary innovations such as - Social Network, Mobile - Android / iOS, Cloud infra, SaaS, IoT and edge computing and in recent times AI takes the center stage and is rapidly picking speed in infusing all aspects of our world and human computer interactions. The renaissance is unprecedented.

The obvious driving force behind this great renaissance is a result of both software and hardware on which the software runs, evolving in tandem.

The place for Open Source Software (OSS) in this Information Technology Renaissance we are witnessing

Now zooming in on the software parlance - most of what we are witnessing with the industry can be largely attributed to Open Source Software (OSS) led growth.

Right from the start of the internet era OSS tools and softwares predominantly played a key role in all aspects of the tech landscape. Operating systems, tools, and packages such as - linux, web app servers, http servers, databases, application middle layer ORM frameworks, and other software infrastructure pretty much powdered the majority of the internet workloads. FSF, GNU Linux, Apache, Maven, MIT, Java, PHP, Python are some of the leading orgs and communities behind open source. About 75% of the internet work loads run on Open Source infrastructure.

Not to mention - OSS powers most of the big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon etc) for the services and products they offer. And as an offshoot many OSS projects have its origins birthed from these big tech companies themselves.

Major share of how our modern world is being infused by technology at all levels can be attributed fully to open source contributions.

The Ethos - What is great about Open Source Software

Early in the mid 70s this movement was called Free Software. Academics and hobbyists developed software, and the whole ethos was: give software away for free. As ARPANET gave way to the internet, networks made it much easier to collaborate and exchange code. The next evolution of Free Software is called the Open Source and with it came the different flavors of licenses that protected the interest of the developers and also potentially opened door for some commercialisation opportunities for open source software. The licensing authority for OSS is the organization called Open Source Initiative(OSI) and is certified by OCI.

GitHub’s site, created to help developers working on open source projects to easily find the open source license that suits their needs, offers an appendix that compares open source licenses and maps out the differences and similarities based on what they permit and what they restrict.

Usually the motivation to open source a software is so that it attracts more collaborations with a worldwide community to contribute and evolve the project. Another motivation is for public good of the likes of Wikipedia, MIT license etc.

Now of late, open source software is being distributed in a more commercially viable fashion through the Commercial Open Source Software (COSS) distribution models that many companies see growth opportunities in a sustainable way - (The Red Hat story explained below)

Open Source licenses also play a key role defining how OSS can be used and commercially distribute. The spectrum of licensing spans from very permissive (with no obligations binding to even make commercial derivatives of it) to very restrictive copy-left type of licenses.

When an open source component is released under a copyleft license, developers have the right to use, modify, and share the work as long as the reciprocity of the obligation is maintained. Using a component with this kind of open source license requires that you too must make the code open for use by others.

Examples of permissive licenses are MIT, BSD. Examples of restrictive ones are the versions and variations of the GPL license.

Here is a list of about 80 difference types of licenses certified by OSI

Main opportunities OSS opens up and enjoy:

  1. - Community driven development
  2. - Better bug reporting and enhancements
  3. - Fully auditable and traceable
  4. - Customisation friendly - nothing stopping you from extending and taking full ownership of what you want to build
  5. - Total ownership of the solution

Proprietary Software = Open Source ++

For various reasons open source projects ends up missing the mark as potential candidates for serious software consumption for business critical applications and requirements that enterprises would be looking for - and ends up meeting say about 80% of the intended use - and fails to qualify for the last bit. That is where most proprietary software or independent software vendors see the opportunity to close the gap and add the final polish to the tech and build profitable businesses around it. Some of the leading proprietary softwares and services vendors are Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, NetApp, Sales Force, SAS and a slew of enterprise based products and solutions these big tech companies offer to their trusted enterprise customers.

And arguably these companies have a major part of their learnings and even tooling derived from the open source world. We have heard of Oracle suing Google for using Java in their Android OS and many other infamous software license related litigation that has made the violators pay a big price for misusing open source software license terms.

Rise of open source across the spectrum -

Come the dawn of this present century - OSS is no more a backend or server side tech, as we all know of Linux, Apache, MySql, Java or Maven etc that powers most of the internet workloads. Its reach is pervading across the spectrum of all imaginable end user software applications now. Even as we speak, full fledged OSS ERPs (such as ERPNext, Odoo) are gaining traction against proprietary ERPs like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. We have OSS alternatives for all known software applications. Some of the popular OSS web applications we know of are Wordpress, Drupal (CMS), Matermost, Sugar CRM, and so many more powerful OSS alternatives we have in the market that can be added in the tech mix for running modern day organizations and businesses.

Why OSS is desirable for enterprises than closed source

As more and more businesses are adopting technology in the way they offer their services and products, also participating in digital marketplace type of platforms for distribution, purchase and multiple other core business areas is infused by digital workflows and solutions - it begins to make more and more sense to build and own their tech, than just buy tech from different vendors for powering their core business areas. Primary motivation for owning the tech is flexibility to adopt the solutions to your unique business needs than what out-of-the-box software solutions from proprietary vendors can offer, also long term variable cost and RoI depletion is a main concern.

Given the plethora of OSS alternatives that is growing in foot print across the spectrum that is made to meet business requirements - the obvious choice for enterprises is to clone the public repos of these apps and self-host and tinker with it first and evaluate the fit for their business needs.

Also more and more orgs are nurturing a dev culture within to stay competitive and relevant in the rapidly changing marketplace landscape. This trend of dev culture shaping within orgs is a key enabler to build tech vs buying tech from external vendors.

Source: OpenLogic by Perforce/OSI

Another big motivation of owning their tech vs renting or buying is to keep the capex and opex under check. Here is a blog on this topic - A perspective on owning your IT vs renting your IT

Biggest Myth Buster: Open Source is NOT Free Software

Anyone considering OSS adoption should know it is more than “free as in free beer" type of thing. It is free as in free speech - the freedom of using, owning, breaking it and making it to your needs and that should be the main motivation when you consider using OSS. For OSS projects to be successful - it requires a lot of executive will and buy-in. Also, companies need to have an inherant or nurture a dev culture within their organizations to be able to yield maximum benefit from the OSS projects.

OSS implemenation is not cheap, so you need to account for sufficient budget early on to mitigate risks - but on the long run the benefits are manifold which is ownership you enjoy that can give significant long term RoI and at the same time freedom from being hostage to proprietary vendor lock-ins.

On the other hand Open Source and Open Standards is increasingly recognised by governments as the most feasible charter for achieving true freedom and democracy in how tech can shape the future of our world. India's national citizen ID network called Aadhaar and many countries working towards standardising Health Data interoperability standards and emerging decentralised protocols like BECKN etc are all examples of how Open Source and Open Standards has proven to be more advantageous for better development, maintainability and sustainability of how tech can influence our world.

With this trend catching up, OSS is gaining traction across the full stack for software and digital needs.

Lot of times companies jump on the OSS bandwagon thinking it is free software and is going to cost them nothing or very little. This is a big myth that anyone who wants to use OSS needs to come to terms with.

The rise of Commercial OSS (COSS) Model - Open Source emerging as a viable software distribution model

But the caveat is that OSS is mostly half finished and suffers neglect due to poor business models and economics around the software distribution, their maintainers end up finding it not sustainable and viability becomes a problem for support and maintenance.

However this is changing a lot as a lot of new pricing innovations are seeing traction in the industry around how OSS is sold and distributed. And the COSS (Commercial Open Source Software) is emerging as a mainstream software distribution method.

Red Hat story - Red Hat model of providing enterprise support and accountability for enterprise users who find value in paying for support was a big hit. Redhat IPO and its buyout by IBM for $39 Billion is a noteworthy story for OSS.

Here is a classical story of one of the leading social omni channel agent support tooling companies called Chatwoot that is thriving after they pivoted from a closed source to open source SaaS product. Read the full story here: Woot Journals: One year since open sourcing Chatwoot

Open Source is gaining traction a lot as a viable software distribution model of late. Every other day hacker news has covers of new OSS product launches and fund raising stories of OSS projects.

Popular Commercial Open Source Distribution models:

Source: Blog by Peter Levine and Jennifer Li on OSS, published on

  1. - Support and Service Revenue - Redhat
  2. - Open Core - Odoo, Confluent, Elastic
  3. - SaaS - Hosting, Tooling & Operations

Here is a great read from on the topic: Open Source: From Community to Commercialization by Peter Levine and Jennifer Li

Conclusion & and a look into the future

At Tacten we thrive on OSS and being an OSS first company our mission is to make Open Source mainstream enough to be a feasible alternative for enterprises to run their business critical applications.

We support the cause for making OSS sustainable - both for developers and contributors of OSS & companies that endorse and use them for their core business operations.

Some newer trends where commercialization and sustainability aspects are getting ground:

Some of the recent trends we have been seeing are attempts and innovations around sustainable commercial distribution of OSS.

The company Once has a very interesting pricing model in making the development of OSS more sustainable and not leaving behind anyone participating in it (be it the developers who build and users who consume it by layering the offerings with lot the typical enterprise featuers that the open core model offers)

Here is an interesting read about the Model that the popular OSS Project Management Tool called is experimenting with - to make OSS a win-win for developers and the end users of the software. Read more here in this blog: Why Plane One

Frappe Cloud Marketplace provides a percentage of revenue to the OSS core maintainers as a way to monetise their apps. This is quite contrary to the trend seen with public cloud providers who has a slew of OSS marketplace apps based of they make a lot of workload cloud revenue. Read more about it here in this blog: Grow with Frappe Cloud and Marketplace is a privacy and security first cloud OSS cloud photo storing and sharing platform. Read here their approach to OSS:

Why Support Open Source

These newer models and commercial angles are sure to make open source attractive and sustainable for all parties involved (for the developers who write and work on OSS projects, and for users and businesses - more accountability to rely on for their mission critical workloads), hence making the software industry a level playing field for everyone.

AI has not left the space unchecked -

Open Source is breaking even in the AI and LLM worlds too. Meta (Facebook) just spent over $100,000,000 to build Llama 3 - the world's best open source AI model - so you can use it for free.

Meta is the only Big Tech company committed to developing AI, particularly large language models, with an open-source approach. Its less about altruism and more about strategy” - Tobias Zwingmann. Read more details here in this LinkedIn Post

The future doesn’t look bleak anymore and with the projects getting neglected type of scenarios, instead a lot more projects are going to see the light-of-day in many ways with the shimmer, shine and polish they deserve to make them mainstream adoption worthy and bestow us with the desireable freedom we all deserve which only open source can promise.

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