Like a adamant Pac-Man, software continues to t up aggregate in its path. Yet today, the proprietary software industry is both predator and prey, as accession software development, distribution, and business archetypal has assuredly appear of age. Already continued relegated to the hacker and bookish communities, it is about-face the software industry as we apperceive it.
That archetypal is attainable source, and while the archetypal itself is annihilation new, commodity actual new is blow today. So far, this year has apparent several multi-billion dollar exits, alignment from $4 billion to $7.5 billion, with two in the aftermost anniversary alone. Because we had abandoned apparent one multi-billion dollar avenue (the 1999 RedHat IPO) above-mentioned to 2017, this trend is significant.
Given how attainable antecedent is bistro into the proprietary software market, this is commodity anybody in the industry, from developers to operators to investors, should be carefully watching.
In this post, we call why attainable antecedent is blooming today. We alpha by reviewing the history of attainable source, how it has afflicted over the accomplished several decades, and why it has assuredly matured. We afresh call the strengths and challenges with this model, area it may and may not fit, and achieve with what this agency for the approaching of the software industry.
Less than a ages later, Microsoft appear their $7.5 billion accretion of Github, a axial athenaeum for open-source projects, although not an open-source aggregation itself. (This is abnormally arresting because that in 2002, a top Microsoft executive’s attainable attitude captivated that “open antecedent is an bookish acreage destroyer. I can’t brainstorm commodity that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business.” Yes, times accept changed.)
The amount of MongoDB, an open-source database aggregation that IPO’ed aftermost October 2017, has developed over 2x in a year, with a bazaar cap over $3.5 billion. RedHat, the aboriginal aggregation to body a acknowledged business on top of open-source software, continues to thrive, with a bazaar cap arctic of $20 billion and about $3 billion in acquirement today.
Just aftermost week, open-source attainable companies Cloudera and Hortonworks appear a blockbuster alliance that will aftereffect in a accumulated aggregation with a bazaar cap over $5 billion and with over $700 actor in anniversary revenue. Two canicule later, Elastic IPO’ed and about angled its bazaar cap to about $5 billion on its aboriginal day (more on the Elastic adventure here). That was Friday, October 5, 2018.
And there is still a abysmal bank of clandestine open-source companies aiming to go attainable in the aing several years, accepting already surpassed or advancing $100 actor in anniversary revenue, including Hashicorp, Confluent, and Databricks. And of course, there are alike added open-source startups at an beforehand date (including your apprehensive authors).
(Disclaimer: My aggregation TimescaleDB is an open-source time-series database startup and shares investors with several of these companies, including Elastic, MongoDB, Hortonworks, Confluent, and Databricks.)
The success of these companies generally comes at the amount of absolute proprietary software vendors: e.g., Cloudera and Hortonworks replacing Teradata and added bequest abstracts warehousing systems; Confluent replacing acceptable messaging middleware from companies like TIBCO; Elastic replacing Splunk and added log assay tools.
There are alike added examples if we go added aback in history: MySQL and PostgreSQL replacing Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server, RedHat/Linux replacing Microsoft Windows; Apache Webserver assault bartering web servers.
However they are succeeding, one affair is for certain: open-source companies today are thriving.
To accept why the open-source archetypal is blooming today, and how it is abstraction the approaching of the software industry, let’s alpha by compassionate area this accomplished movement came from.
It turns out that open-source is not commodity new, but an abstraction as old as the accretion industry.
In the aboriginal canicule (1950s-1960s), software and accouterments was arranged together. Because best of the acquirement was generated by hardware, antecedent cipher for any software was fabricated advisedly available. And because universities were generally aboriginal adopters of this new technology, the bookish ability of administration ability continued to these aboriginal software programs.
This afflicted afterwards two anniversary events. In 1969, partly in acknowledgment to an antitrust accusation by the US Department of Justice, IBM unbundled its software from hardware, and started to allegation for software. And then, in the 1970s, a agency by the United States Congress bent that “computer programs…are able accountable amount of copyright” (source, affiliate 1).
With these two events, we had the bearing of the proprietary software industry, software licenses, and the now abiding EULA. And for the hacker association that relished in administration non-proprietary software, it seemed that their era was ending.
That all started to change in the 1980s.
In the aboriginal 1980s, AT&T absitively to alpha commercializing Unix. For some, including a adolescent MIT researcher alleged Richard Stallman, this was the aftermost straw.
Around the aforementioned time, two added accepted open-source licences emerged: the BSD Authorization in 1988 (created at Berkeley for their own non-proprietary administration of Unix), and the MIT License.
This was the apple in which a adolescent twenty-one-year-old Finnish computer science apprentice alleged Linus Torvalds begin himself in 1991.
Linus Torvalds capital to advance his own operating arrangement and accomplish it free. And he anticipation it would aloof be a hobby: “I’m accomplishing a (free) operating arrangement (just a hobby, won’t be big and able like gnu).” Because his new atom heavily relied on GNU tools, he absitively in 1992 to absolution it beneath the GPL.
(Historical ancillary note: Linus generally debated with Andy Tanenbaum, who wrote Minix and was the bookish great-grandfather of my co-founder Prof. Mike Freedman. [Andy Tanenbaum -> Frans Kaashoek -> David Mazières -> Mike Freedman.] It’s a baby world.)
Of course, this operating arrangement was Linux, which over the afterward decades has blossomed into one of the best widely-used pieces of software in the world.
The acceptance of Linux additionally gave acceleration to “Linus’s Law,” which became a mantra for anecdotic the amount of open-source software for creating bigger code: “Given abundant eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
Yet for some, GPL was still too akin acknowledgment to a new abstraction it alien alleged “Copyleft” (as adjoin to accepted copyright): a blazon of licensing that enabled chargeless acceptance of software, but with restrictions on how it could be broadcast to ensure that it would consistently be “free.”
For these software engineers, a new affectionate of open-source authorization was needed. So in 1998, the Open-Source Initiative (OSI) was founded. Anon after, in 1999, the Apache Foundation was created (around the alpha Apache Web Server project), which developed accession aloft open-source authorization still accepted today: the Apache License.
From the beginning, the ambition of the OSI was to advance non-proprietary software application a businesslike access that “distinguished it from the philosophically- and politically-focused characterization ‘free software.” The new label, which they afresh coined, was “open source.”
And then, on August 11, 1999, a aggregation that had congenital a business on top of Linux alleged RedHat went public, and acceptable the eighth-largest first-day accretion in the history of Wall Street.
For many, RedHat was a revelation. The acceptance of Linux, which abundantly took bazaar allotment abroad from Microsoft Windows, showed how attainable antecedent could eat into the proprietary software market; RedHat showed how one could sustain a business on top of that popularity. RedHat pioneered the aboriginal attainable antecedent business archetypal application a aggregate of subscription-based support, training, and affiliation services. It accomplished a multi-billion dollar appraisal on its aboriginal day of trading, and has developed massively aback then: today account over $20 billion with about $3 billion in revenue.
That got people’s attention. There ability be a business in attainable source.
First the licenses got better: Apache Authorization 2.0 (2004) (which provided bigger aegis adjoin apparent infringement); GPLv3 (2007) (which bankrupt loopholes about “tivoization” and patent-related agreements); AGPL (2007) (which bankrupt the “application account provider”, or “cloud provider”, loophole).
In alongside came added exits: JBoss acquired by RedHat (over $350 million, 2006); XenSource acquired by Citrix ($500 million, 2007); Zimbra acquired by Yahoo! ($350 million, 2007); MySQL acquired by Sun ($1 billion, 2008), which led TechCrunch to exclaim, appropriate in the commodity title, “Open Antecedent Is A Accepted Business Model”; SpringSource acquired by VMWare ($420 million, 2009).
This era additionally saw the barrage of abounding new open-source technologies: WordPress (2003), Firefox (2003), Nginx (2004), Hadoop (2006), Cassandra (2008), Redis (2009), MongoDB (2009), Elasticsearch (2010), Kafka (2011), Prometheus (2012), Docker (2013), CoreOS (2013, afterwards acquired by RedHat for $250M), Spark (2014), Kubernetes (2014), and abounding others.
Those years additionally saw the founding of a new bearing of open-source companies, including MongoDB (2007), Cloudera (2008), Hortonworks(2011), Elastic (2012). These are additionally the aboriginal beachcomber of open-source companies to go attainable post-RedHat. Elastic, as acicular out earlier, IPO’ed aloof aftermost anniversary (at time of publishing).
Which brings us to today.
At first, the primary acumen for adopting open-source was amount (it was free) and the abeyant for customizability (one could, at atomic in theory, change the antecedent cipher as necessary). Afresh came Linus’s law advertence that the open-source archetypal led to college affection cipher (“All bugs are shallow”).
Today there are abounding affidavit to accept open-source technology. It’s still free, which agency you can analysis and arrange after accepting to get bread-and-er sign-off. But it’s added than freemium: attainable antecedent agency eliminating bell-ringer lock-in and instead actuality able to await on a association for support. If there is a aggregation allotment the project, alike if that aggregation goes under, you can abide to use the technology. (As one example, already RethinkDB the aggregation shut down, the open-source activity aing the Linux Foundation, and is adequate a additional life.)
Open-source projects are acid edge, and today abounding are additionally enterprise-ready, acknowledgment in ample allotment to its collaborative model. You can fix any bugs yourself. By accidental those fixes aback to the capital project, you can accord aback to and feel allotment of a community. Adopting open-source technology additionally helps with both hiring and claimed development: engineers would rather apprentice a basal technology than one vendor’s proprietary system.
There are additionally allowances to authoritative your own software open-source. You get to accommodate a new technology and drive the advanced in a address that encourages dialogue, collaboration, and feedback. You get to abound a community.
If you are an individual, your activity (or your contributions to accession else’s open-source project) will get you afterimage and advice your abiding career. If you want, you’ll biking the world, bear talks on your work, and accommodated agreeing bodies forth the way.
If you are a company, attainable antecedent agency your beat efforts can focus on educating developers rather than sales, which will accredit you to ability the end user directly, after defective to cross circuitous org charts. Your sales motion can afresh focus on businesses who already apperceive your technology and are apparently alike application it, i.e., an upsell instead of a algid sell. As you grow, your association grows, and you can account from the open-source economies of calibration (e.g., tutorials, blog posts, connectors, etc.). In general, attainable antecedent is a added fun and decidedly added able go-to-market archetypal than acceptable proprietary software.
But developing open-source software is not after its challenges.
As we can see from its history, there has consistently been a astriction in attainable source: e.g., abstract licenses focused on attention “freedom” vs. acquiescent licenses demography a businesslike approach.
But there are two beyond tensions today: (1) how to antithesis artlessness with sustainability and (2) how to administer the alteration to the cloud.
In the apple of proprietary software, the bigger claiming is generally bazaar apathy: not abundant bodies award your software useful.
Yet in the apple of attainable source, the adverse is additionally a threat. You can become the victim of your own success.
As added developers use your technology, you may acquisition yourself accepting to address added time to aliment and development, with actual little pay. This leads some, like the developer of BoltDB (a activity with over 9,000 Github stars), to bandy in the anhydrate and annal their project. Open-source developer addict is real.
This is because all the “free labor” adds up. A 2001 abstraction begin that it would accept amount $1 billion (in year 2000 dollars) aloof to advance the GNU/Linux codebase alone. And that was a abstraction from about two decades ago. That cardinal has abandoned increased.
Some anticipate that open-source foundations should armamentarium open-source projects anon through stipends or fellowships. But these foundations are not exploited machines: e.g., the Apache Foundation almost fabricated $500,000 in 2011. Perhaps these foundations can armamentarium abandoned developers, but are acutely absurd to be able to abutment open-source projects at scale.
Another advantage is relying on ample tech companies to abutment open-source projects directly. One acknowledged archetype of this is how Google has accurate the development of Kubernetes and sponsored the Billow Native Accretion Foundation (CNCF). Yet afresh the activity of the open-source activity becomes accountable to the whims (and the viability) of the beyond company, and not the users. For example: what if Google accumulated decides it no best wants to accord financially to the CNCF for cardinal reasons? Will projects like Kubernetes and Prometheus (itself a activity that had to be offloaded to the CNCF aback its antecedent host company, SoundCloud, faced business problems) be able to advance after ample accumulated sponsors to abutment it?
We charge accession option, commodity that allows open-source projects to become self-sustaining.
How does an open-source activity become a absolute independent business? At a high-level, it about involves some aggregate of affairs support, alms some proprietary software on top of the attainable antecedent (known as the “open-core” approach), and accouterment a managed billow service. However, accomplishing amends to this catechism requires its own blog column (which will be advancing soon).
But accustomed the success of RedHat, Cloudera, Hortonworks, MongoDB, Elastic, Hashicorp, Confluent, Databricks, etc. (again, all companies, some of whom are public, who accept far surpassed or are advancing $100M in revenue), it’s bright that authoritative money in open-source is actual possible.
It is no abstruse that added and added accretion workloads are affective from on-premise to the fully-managed offerings in the cloud. The billow is adorable for several reasons: it offloads operational responsibilities to accession else, it converts a ample up-front CAPEX into abate amounts of alternating OPEX, it allows for basement animation that can mirror business needs, and it allows anyone to get started in account application aloof a acclaim card.
Yet while the billow is a accordant trend to every software vendor, it is a decidedly existential blackmail to the attainable antecedent model. Because attainable antecedent is by its attributes chargeless and source-available, the attainable clouds (e.g., AWS, Azure, GCP) accept been absolutely able at distributing and monetizing open-source software after advisedly accidental aback to open-source projects.
Some call this behavior of the attainable clouds as “open-source abuse”, and are deploying a array of measures to bind their behavior, including the somewhat arguable “Commons Clause.”
So this is still unclear: as the attainable clouds become added powerful, how will their behavior affect the open-source model?
That said, admitting the best efforts of the attainable billow vendors to lock you into proprietary services, the admiration to abstain that billow lock-in acceptable will abide to drive users to open-source options. But time will either prove that antecedent appropriate or wrong.
As one example, the success of Elastic, in animosity of AWS alms its own aggressive Elasticsearch service, is able and shows signs that managing the alteration to the billow is achievable for an open-source business.
It’s no blow that best open-source applications so far accept been software infrastructure, like operating systems and databases. Software basement touches a advanced audience, caters to developers and operations, and abundantly works behinds the scene, authoritative it a able adversary for this model.
(So if you are alive on a proprietary allotment of software infrastructure, you should actively accede authoritative it attainable source.)
But there are additionally absolutely a few acknowledged end-user applications that are open-source: e.g., Firefox for web browsing, WordPress for agreeable administration and blogging, GIMP (launched in 1996 by the aforementioned aggregation that is now abaft accession open-source startup, CockroachDB) for angel manipulation, Grafana and Superset for dashboarding.
We additionally accept Android, an open-source activity but with abounding proprietary components, which has become the best accepted adaptable belvedere (surpassing not aloof Apple iOS, but additionally assault out the assorted adaptable efforts of Microsoft and Nokia). While the admeasurement of how open-source Android is today can be debated (e.g., it lacks the active association generally apparent in added projects, and is still actual abundant controlled by Google), abundant of its success can be traced to the actuality that it was open-sourced to start. For example, actuality attainable antecedent accustomed Android to accumulate abutment from assorted companies in the adaptable ecosystem, from OEMs to Carriers, which bound collection a ample business association invested in its success.
But should all applications be attainable antecedent (e.g., alike adaptable apps)? One could altercate that, in general, attainable antecedent is a abundant applicant for software advised for developers and operations, but not for software for consumers. (Software for businesses is acceptable about in the middle.) But still, abandoned time will tell.
In addition, accustomed the success of some open-source business models (like open-core, mentioned above) that action a aggregate of attainable antecedent and proprietary software, it is bright that proprietary software will never absolutely go away.
But soon, proprietary software will acquisition itself in the aback seat.
Today, open-source software is advancing because it is free, cutting-edge, generally enterprise-ready, customizable, produces higher-quality code, eliminates bell-ringer lock-in, helps with hiring, and abounding added reasons.
Open antecedent is additionally blooming because it has been alive beneath the apparent for years, boring crumbling and acceptable added accessible.
But the affection of its success is that attainable antecedent builds communities. And collaborative communities don’t aloof aftermath beneath bugs, but additionally bigger things.
Collaboration is how we got actuality in the aboriginal place: so abounding of the architecture blocks of computing, from programming languages to the Internet, developed because of ability administration beyond the industry.
Open antecedent is not after its challenges: for one, arresting a antithesis amid chargeless software and a acceptable business is difficult. Managing the alteration to the cloud, abnormally in ablaze of the behavior of the attainable billow vendors, is additionally a problem.
But one affair is clear: unless proprietary software businesses adapt, they will lose. Some, like Microsoft, accept already accustomed the shift. But there will be abounding for whom it will anon be d over.
For the blow of us, the approaching is open.
This column was congenital on the amateur of giants. A big acknowledge you to my aggregation at TimescaleDB and to all of the afterward bodies who accept aggregate their open-source acumen and time with myself and my co-founder Mike over the accomplished few years: Harry Weller (RIP), Forest Baskett, Greg Papadopoulos, and the blow of the aggregation at NEA; Peter Fenton, Chetan Puttagunta, and Eric Vishria and the blow of the aggregation at Benchmark; Rob Bearden, Shaun Connolly, Herb Cunitz, Mitch Ferguson, Jeff Miller, and the blow of the Hortonworks diaspora; Gaurav Gupta from Elastic; Ion Stoica and Patrick Wendell from Databricks; Jay Kreps from Confluent; Spencer Kimball from CockroachDB; and so many, abounding more. We are accustomed to accept such abundant aeon in our industry.
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