The Open-Source Summit of 2021 was recently hosted by the SAINTGITS Open-Source Club in affiliation with FOSSASIA - the largest Open-Source software community in Asia. The event saw some of the industry leaders in free & open-source software development gather for a panel and talked about various aspects of the open-source software industry. The panel consisted of Amal Mathai, Technical Delivery Manager for training and certification at Redhat; Karan M.N., responsible for Developer Relations at GitHub; Sayan Chowdhury, Software Engineer at Microsoft; and Vimal Joseph, Digital Consultant at Zyxware Technologies with combined expertise of over 50 years in the open-source software industry.
Thoughts on the Open-Source Industry
The panelists shared an equal love for the open-source software sector and were incredibly open about their journey through the industry and how they came to know and love open-source software. As Mr. Mathai put it, “Open Source for me has been my life, and it is not just about the software, it is also about the way we live”, a thought that resonated with the entire panel.
The discussion was kick-started by Mr. Vimal Joseph, who has experience of 20 years in working with free & open-source software. He gave an important insight into the importance of the developer community for open-source software. His experience had taught him that open-source software is a development and collaboration model and that when we talk about knowledge sharing and contributing back to society, it necessitates the term free software.
He further explained the work his company has done with Drupal and how Drupal’s tagline accurately captured the essence of free & open-source software, “Come for Software, Stay for Community”. He pointed out the importance of being an active contributor to the free & open-source community and how the work culture at Zyxware was being developed by encouraging new employees to give back to the Drupal community by fixing bugs and developing Drupal by working on it in their free time. His experience with Drupal has shown him how contributing the modules they created for their clients, with permission from their clients, back to the community has helped their business. There are thousands of websites running modules created by Zyxware, which has, in turn, helped Zyxware get even more business.
“On the industry front, we are 100% benefitting not by just using free and open-source software but contributing back to the community helps us establish a position within the community and help potential customers understand our competency and capability on Drupal.” Mr. Vimal elaborated.
He has accurately grasped the importance of the developer community when it comes to the development of free & open-source software.
“Our understanding of how the community works and what will be the future direction of the platform helps us serve our customers better and improves the platform itself”.
Mr. Sayan Chowdhury, an industry expert with over ten years of experience with extensive dealings with Fedora OS talked us through his work with the Flatcar Container Linux, an open-source OS that has been gaining momentum. He talked about how he was focused on building a community for Flatcar from the ground up with monthly meetups and community calls.
“The idea here is that at the end of the day, we are trying to build this community where we try to make the path of free & open-source contributor easy enough that they start contributing and be associated with.”
Mr. Sayan was very particular about how without the contributors and community, the open-source software industry cannot survive. He talked about the importance of the whole community coming together to work on a project and how the knowledge belongs to the entire community, which in turn creates innovation.
The discussion was then taken forward by Mr. Karan M.V. He told us how big enterprises and software giants, are all getting interested in open-source with many of them having their own program offices within their ecosystem, a practice he said was called Inner Source. These offices are integral in the practice of usage of free & open-source software within the company. He talked about enterprises are looking for collaborations by providing monetary support to open-source projects and developers.
He further talked about how open-source software is more than just software but has a human element to them too. He gave an excellent example of the use of open-source software on the first purpose-built helicopter for Mars, Ingenuity, a milestone for humanity and free & open-source software in space exploration. He resonated with the idea of Mr. Vimal on how it is important to give back to the community.
“We contribute upstream to a lot of the projects we use,” he said and emphasized how important it was that the community continuously shares knowledge in the public domain, ensuring exponential digital growth."
Lastly, Mr. Amal talked about the culture of free & open-source software. By his own admission, he has always been fascinated by open-source software and that it was a culture of openness, transparency, collaboration, and inclusivity that drove the community, and it is these very elements that constitute the culture of open-source software.
Licensing Open-Source Software
Mr. Karan pointed out that when it comes to open-source software, software license can be a key issue. He further explained how when you buy a mobile phone or a laptop, you have the license to use the product but not to modify it and how similar concepts are applicable to software with open-source software not being the only one affected by it.
It is the license that tells developers about what the software is intended to do and how it is supposed to be, and what creative and developmental freedom you have on the source code.
Mr. Vimal then gave an insight into the licensing world.
“If you are trying to contribute to any FOSS, you should first check which license it has and whatever code that you contribute, whether you need to use that license and what is the purpose of your code”.
Any software a developer writes is by default covered by copyright laws unless the developer has explicitly mentioned the nature of the license for the source code. He gave a brief introduction of reciprocal and permissive licenses and what freedoms they give to developers.
Mr. Mathai gave his 2 cents on how and what led to the creation of open-source software and how “being open source will help innovation”. The panel then talked about the compatibility of different licenses and how coders and developers need to be wary about the open-source software they use as there is a great need of synergy between all the licenses you will be using to create your software. Mr. Sayan then wrapped up the discussion with his insight into how open-source software is not just about the code but an ideology that you follow and propagate.
At the turn of the century, free & open-source software projects were just coming into their own and not viable to be a replacement for proprietary software. Open-source software for the most part of the first decade of the 21st century was limited to computer enthusiasts and had created its own niche of users. With the rapid advancement in open-source software and its applications, businesses and enterprises have realized the advantages of an open-source platform. They are now actively using it for commercial as well as in-house applications.
Today the one of the two most popular smartphone OS is open-source, and even NASA has used open-source for its Mars helicopter. The wide application, flexibility, and limitless development potential of open-source software-driven by millions of developers and its community are taking open-source software to greater heights than was thought possible.