How open source made becoming a Billionaire possible?
Weird title, right?
I sometimes think too much and come up with some weird stuff. None the less, today I want to talk about how FOSS (Free and Open Source Softwares) changed our world forever. And yes, it made many people billionaires too. Do you know what the sad part is though? The people who put in sweat and blood in writing that code, often go unnoticed. Yes, we do sometimes celebrate with a few people. But an open-source community is not one single person. They often do not get credit and support for what they have built and we need to change that.
What is Open Source Software?
If you are not from a tech background, you might not have heard of this word. This is something that everyone uses today but no one acknowledges. However, I must say that in the past couple of years we have seen a rise in the acknowledgments. But that is not enough.
Let me fetch the dictionary definition of FOSS (Free and Open Source Softwares):
Free and open-source software (FOSS) is software that can be classified as both free software and open-source software. That is, anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright licensing and the source code is usually hidden from the users.
The definition in Wikipedia extends and says:
FOSS maintains the software user’s civil liberty rights. Other benefits of using FOSS can include decreased software costs, increased security, and stability (especially regarding malware), protecting privacy, education, and giving users more control over their hardware. Free and open-source operating systems such as Linux and descendants of BSD are widely utilized today, powering millions of servers, desktops, smartphones (e.g., Android), and other devices. Free-software licenses and open-source licenses are used by many software packages. The free-software movement and the open-source software movement are online social movements behind widespread production and adoption of FOSS.
So if you use Android, you are already using a code that is written by thousands of volunteers across the world. And Open Source often means low cost, privacy-centric. However for that to happen, the project should be well maintained.
Making Millionaires and Billionaires at gigantic speeds
Think of all the recent Millionaires and Billionaires you have heard of. Most of them would be from the internet age and more specifically, they would be running some sort of internet business. To run an internet business, you need to write code. If you are a programmer, you will quickly think of C, Python, Golang. Today you can just be a FOSS loader and run a company that churns in profits. Think of a world without these FOSSs, where everyone would have to reinvent the wheel for anything new. The pace at which new products would appear in that case would be extremely slow, and the market would be dominated by existing giants (which is still the case, but the possibility of a new player coming into the market and disrupting things is huge.)
DevOps is also completely open sourced now. You can essentially just purchase the compute and scale up to Millions of customers just relying on the open-source technologies like Kubernetes (Google had Borg, Facebook has Tupperware for years now), Ceph and thanks to all the CNCF efforts, the cloud is no longer closed source first.
Where is the gratitude?
Do you know what is the biggest problem still unsolved in the open-source world? How can one earn money by working on open source projects? Well, when pia and others launched open collective, we solved how communities would maintain money. But the problem at the individual level is still there. While we are highly dependent on the open-source world, we still do not have a clear way of monetizing open source. What I mean by this statement is, we don’t know if I am going to commit to working on some project, and make some interesting contributions, how do I keep doing it and sustain? At some point, I have to prioritize things over it to make hands meet. While there are a lot of developments on this front, like GitHub Sponsors. But again, even after looking at some of the very popular and highly followed people (~500 followers), it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are sponsoring them. Then how does a person who has just begun, sustain?
A few companies take over some open source project and then assign some of their engineers as maintainers. This means that the projects see a lot of development and activity. But there is a problem. If you have seen how a founder maintainer works on such a project vs. how employees of a company get paid for maintaining work on the same project. You will see a clear gap between “love” for the project. While I do not want to generalize this, this is true for most if not all such open-source projects. The communities in that case feel more like customer support and less like an actual community.
How do we solve the open-source money problem?
Well it’s an open question, and I appreciate all the efforts made by every player out there, but something else is needed. I feel OpenSaaS can be the answer for a lot of FOSS which can be turned into services. There is a lot that is possible, just it’s been almost 20 years since we saw the rise of Linux and saw the world around us changing rapidly.
I want to encourage some of the people around me, to start thinking on these lines. Maybe something great can come out of it. GitHub has around 40 Million Developers. Even if 10% of them start working full time on some Open Source Project which in turn get revenue through some method, this can be the Billion Dollar Market we never attended.
I know this was vague at the best. But I appreciate you reading this. Thanks for reading. If you would like to have a conversation about this, float some ideas, educate me about some pre-existing ideas, tell your experience, drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will be very happy to talk about it.