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Companies can’t stop using open source

Convenience, not cost, drives open source adoption. That’s the main finding of a new report from The Linux Foundation on the economic value of open source, and it’s a bit of a contradiction. In an interview with Professor Henry Chesbrough, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and author of the report, he emphasized that while cost is a significant perceived benefit of open source, not everyone finds it cheaper. However, even the “open source costs more” crowd says that the benefits of open source outweigh the costs. The main advantage? Availability. In other words: speed of development.

free is good

Free download code has never really been free (as in cost). The bits may be free, but there is a cost to manage those bits. Developers always cost more than the code they write or manage. This may be one of the reasons why when companies were asked what they value most in “open source leadership”, they responded “it makes it easy to deploy my favorite open source software in the cloud”. Companies increasingly want the benefits of open source without the expense of managing it themselves.

Regardless, in data from The Linux Foundation’s new survey on the economic value of open source, lower costs associated with open source stand out as a top driver for open source adoption:

ossbenefits The Linux Foundation

Companies weigh in on the benefits of using open source software.

The cost is not the only benefit, of course. Also noteworthy are the speed of development and the relative independence of software providers. But cost is the key benefit cited by companies today for their adoption of open source, just as it was decades ago. (I dare you to find any survey from the 2000s that does not put cost as one of the top three, but rather he main reason for corporate adoption of open source. Forward. I will wait.)

Of course, other attributes of open source can actually increase your costs relative to other options. When asked about these cost-inflating attributes, security stands out:

oscosts The Linux Foundation

Despite the perception that open source software is free, it can come with substantial costs.

Open source security is arguably getting better, thanks to vendors like Chainguard and industry consortia like the Open Source Security Foundation. But we’ve got a ways to go, and in the meantime, security, as well as other factors, mean that “free as in beer” is never truly free.

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And yet…

speed is better

Despite these problems and despite the costs of open source, even those who think that open source is more expensive than proprietary alternatives say that its benefits outweigh those costs. Chesbrough, conducting the survey for the Linux Foundation, asked about this seemingly counterintuitive finding. “If you think [open source is] more expensive, why are you still using it? she asked one of the respondents. Her response from him? “The code is available.” What it means: “If we were to build the code ourselves, that would take some time. It might be cheaper for us to do that, but our developers aren’t just sitting around with nothing to do, and this code is already available.”

For this respondent and others like them, open source may be more expensive, but it still offers a time advantage. Time, for most companies and most developers, is much more important than cost, because for every hour a developer spends on the undifferentiated drudgery of rewriting code that duplicates open source functionality. , is not innovating. I’ve written before about how companies have turned to self-service development platforms that restrict a developer’s choices when building software (bad!) so they can focus more on innovation (good!).

Based on survey data, companies expect the benefits of using open source to increase relative to their costs. Only 16% believe that the costs are increasing faster than the benefits. Also interesting, but not surprising, the more companies use and contribute to open source, the more likely they are to discover the benefits and outweigh the costs. As Chesbrough said, “You learn more with years of experience and you get better at managing costs.” He continued: “But also, you probably get a little more strategic in the way that you use it to direct and shape the space that you’re racing in.”

This means that we will likely see companies become much more strategic over time, as they move from being mere users of the software to being co-creators of it.

economicossvalue The Linux Foundation

Companies are committed to open source and see its trade-offs as a small price to pay.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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