The adoption of open-source tools is growing. For example, SAP Research and SAP Labs LLC have found that although in the past open-source software was increasing at a linear rate, it’s now gaining ground exponentially throughout the industry.
Ian Tien is CEO and Co-Founder of Mattermost, Inc., an open-source Slack-alternative, shares his insights into this growth and what developers can expect in the future of open source.
Why have open-source tools become prevalent in software development?
Tien: Open-source tools for software developers are created by engineers solving problems for themselves and then sharing those solutions with the world. There’s heart, soul and pride in these tools, and many are constantly improving with community contributions, making them enormously compelling. Moreover, with full access to source code, the users of the tools have the freedom to create extensions, customizations and integrations that can supercharge productivity. According to a recent RedHat survey, 90 percent of IT leaders are using enterprise open source. Even companies that don’t explicitly use open source have it included within the software they buy from vendors because that’s just the way modern software is made.
What is driving the adoption and growing use of open-source tools?
Tien: It’s a combination of things, but open source technologies and projects have never been as popular as they are right now. Simply put, the best engineers are immersed in open source and thrive on contributing to, modifying and building open technologies that can be leveraged by their peers around the globe. Internally, engineers want to build or leverage these technologies to develop high-performing and high-quality applications because open source tools are easy to customize and modify. They offer full access to source code and system APIs, community support and involvement, reliable documentation, crowdsourced security and protection, and freedom from vendor lock-in.
Are open-source tools secure? Are they appropriate for developers working on projects for government or regulated industries?
Tien: Yes, in fact, we believe open source tools can be a more secure alternative than proprietary solutions for a number of reasons. For one, open-source projects are typically vetted and analyzed by contributors who thoroughly inspect the freely available source code. These contributors often find and disclose bugs and other vulnerabilities. In essence, open source offers transparency, true code visibility and a platform for community involvement and input. With this in mind, and with more eyes on the open-source code, we even tend to see faster security updates, as users are constantly, iterating, releasing new versions and keeping an eye out for security flaws.
Moreover, open-source tools can be easily self-hosted to allow organizations to be in complete control of their data, so that sensitive data is protected. Mattermost, for example, partners with many government agencies, including the U.S. Air Force, that securely deploy our platform on their own infrastructure, and in some cases in air-gapped networks, and leverage our strict, customizable access controls to help ensure military-grade security.
What are some open-source tool benefits that developers may not immediately consider?
Tien: Most developers are likely to have experience with open source, but one thing that is always eye-opening is how impactful the tools can be on developer culture across the software engineering organization. An open-source strategy helps foster a more and transparent culture, and it raises the performance of engineers, empowering them to network with their peers, contribute and build the best code that they can build.
The other primary benefit of open source is that community involvement allows your roadmap to expand beyond your own product and engineering team’s vision. With open-source, contributions and innovation can come from anywhere, and this can help shape your public roadmap for years to come.
What do you see on the horizon for open-source tools for developers in 2022 and beyond?
Tien: Every company has to have an open-source strategy for their development and engineering teams. Right now there is an extremely low unemployment rate in tech, and within software engineering and DevOps, retaining talent is almost as difficult as hiring new talent. Beyond that, there is a surge in demand for digital applications — a predicted 500 million apps will be developed in the next five years. This has created a talent bottleneck that open source can help alleviate. Open source contributors act as a force multiplier for projects, so that applications can be built and delivered faster than internal teams are capable of doing on their own.
And don’t forget: Most developers prefer open source, so offering the best tools that let them customize their tech stacks, optimize productivity, contribute on projects, learn quickly and speed up onboarding time is essential for attracting, retaining and incentivizing the best talent.