Everyone uses open source, but no one talks about it

About a month ago, I donated some money to OpenBSD because they were in trouble financially. After reading about the response to their call for help, I started wondering why it had to get so bad for a popular open source project before people rallied around them.

I’m a Java developer. Over the course of my career so far, I’ve worked both for Fortune 500 companies and companies that had less than 20 people. I’ve worked for companies that are only 100 years younger than America, and some that were founded only a few years after the tech bubble. The one thing that unites these companies is their use of open source software.

For small companies, it’s usually because they’re too small and cash-poor to afford commercial software like an Oracle licence, so they use MySQL or PostgreSQL. Older companies are usually trying to modernize, and the technical leadership decides that they no longer want to use Websphere/Weblogic, and would rather move to something with less cognitive overhead like Apache Tomcat. I’ve seen dozens of cases where the only reason a project succeeds in a given time frame is because of easily-available mature open source solutions.

For example, every Java contract I’ve ever worked on has used Apache Commons. Tomcat, Jetty, JBoss increasingly Netty are prevalent for application servers and web service construction. Outside of Java, RabbitMQ, ZeroMQ, and ActiveMQ for are standard for queueing. PostgreSQL, MySQL, HBase, and Cassandra are common for persistence. In Javascript, I don’t think there are any proprietary frameworks left worth mentioning.

What I find much rarer is for somebody in a technical leadership position to acknowledge the huge role that open source plays in the success of these projects, and not to just acknowledge the platform, but doing the right thing and donating some money to these projects. If even 1% of the companies that use these projects were to donate 1% of the costs these projects save them, I’m confident there would be no funding issues for any of these projects.

These projects don’t exists for the money, and the developers who work on them aren’t doing it to become rich. But a bit more goodwill from decision makers in businesses that rely on these projects strikes me as the right thing to do.