Trends 2021: Open source wins, open source creators lose

Open source is winning, in databases and beyond. Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than 70% of new internal applications will be developed on an open source database, and 50% of existing proprietary relational database instances will have been converted or will be in the process of being converted.

This is what paved the way for us for 2020, and it looks like the trend has accelerated. The use of open source has increased while the economy has been declining, and career opportunities in this field are a boon to the revival. Open source software is a boon to the developers who use it because it lowers the barrier to entry and makes their skills transferable. But what about the developers who create software?

In reality, it would seem that for the majority of free software beyond a certain threshold of complexity, a central team of a few people does most of the work. This empirical fact is supported by an analysis of Github data.

We highlighted this theme in early 2020, following the article in New York Times on the relationship between AWS and commercial free software providers. Wired followed up this article with another article highlighting the ordeal of free software creators. The fact that Salvatore Sanfilippo, the “benevolent dictator” of Redis, is stepping down from his role is just another incident in a long chain of burn-out among open source creators.

What alternatives?

Prominent creators of open source software, such as André Staltz, showed to what extent creators derive very little from the value generated. The cynical answer to that would be to say that open source is not a business model. But the repercussions of the absence of open source would be hard to imagine. Beyond fairness, open source users themselves would suffer from an ecosystem collapse. AWS, and the cloud in general, are also open source based. So what are the alternatives?

Careful use of open source licenses to avoid exploitation by vendors who don’t reciprocate. Data-driven business models that restore the balance between those who do and those who take. Ethical software and fair software, in other words rethinking open source licenses. Here are some of the proposals that have been made. However, it looks like 2020 hasn’t been a breaking year for any of them.

On the other hand, we have seen a certain increase in pragmatism in the field of open source. On the side of commercial free software vendors, it has been suggested that what developers really care about is availability, not terms of use, i.e. a freely accessible API, not a open source product.

DataStax is a seller who illustrates this change of course, trying to find a balance between make amends with AWS and reconnect with the community. For its part, AWS broke new ground by concluding a revenue sharing agreement with an open source software provider, Grafana. We don’t really know how the appeal might have influenced this decision, but we consider it a first step in the right direction. Others must follow.

This article is part of our dossier on technological trends in 2021. To go further, read also:

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