The pervasive and growing use of open source and free software around the world is a blessing in many ways, but nevertheless it should make us all a little nervous. Who is maintaining all of this code, especially with respect to security and reliability issues? The answer to that question, in many cases, is no one or maybe just one overworked person operating on a shoestring budget.
Joshua Gans of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, has recently pointed out that the internet in particular is very vulnerable to breaking down if certain individuals were no longer able to maintain critical code. This is especially important with respect to security vulnerabilities. Addressing and correcting this problem with open source software “makes Y2K look like a picnic, especially since the magnitude of these issues is unknown.” No one knows how vulnerable they might be. Because open source software is developed by communities of independent individuals, the commercial and governmental efforts that addressed the Y2K problem may not work with open source.
The federal pilot program for releasing at least 20 percent of new custom-developed code as open source software requires federal agencies to select an open source license for the released code.
Guidance on selecting an appropriate open source license for code released under the pilot program can be found at code.gov. Agencies are encouraged to select a standard license that can be applied to all open source projects rather than choose a license on a project-by-project basis. The following items are to be considered by federal agencies in choosing an open source license:
using a license that is considered “popular” by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) may maximize the interoperability of the license with other open source code;
choose a license that does not place unnecessary restrictions on the open source code;
avoid the creation of ad hoc licenses in order to avoid uncertainty on the part of contributors with respect to legal rights regarding distribution and reuse; and
use standardized and well-vetted licenses.
There are, of course, many other issues that could be considered with respect to selecting and applying a license to free and open software, but the above items are good for starters.
It has been almost one year since the federal government established an open source software pilot program requiring federal agencies to release at least 20 percent of new custom-developed code as open source software. This is a three-year pilot program. Federal agencies are encouraged to release as much custom-developed code as possible to further the federal government’s commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration.
The intention is to evaluate the results of the pilot program within the first two years and consider whether to allow the pilot program to expire or to continue, modify, or increase the minimum requirements of the pilot program. It will be interesting to see the results of this evaluation when it is completed by the government.
More information on the open source software pilot program can be found at code.gov.
Considering that the use of open source software in the business world is on a steady increase, there must be a good number of reasons why business enterprises choose open source solutions for their software needs. Proprietary programs can be expensive to acquire and maintain, so one clear advantage of open source software is its lower cost. Open source software is almost always less expensive to acquire and, just as important, to maintain. So what are other benefits of using open source software in business?
A recent article by Carlos Melendez of InfoWorld lists other open source software advantages, including reliability, security, freedom of choice, continuity, and flexibility. It’s an interesting article which can be found here.
The Free Software Foundation’s current list of high priority free software projects consists of eleven items. This list “serves to foster work on projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software applications and free software operating systems.”
The projects list, which includes a free phone operating system, security for free software, and free software adoption by governments, can be found here.
On June 29, 2017, the Apache Software Foundation announced the release of its annual report for its 2017 fiscal year. The report covers ASF’s operational highlights for the year, including that there were 65+M lines of code committed during the year, dozens of Apache projects continue to dominate the enterprise big data ecosystem, 976 individual Contributor License Agreements and 42 corporate Contributor License Agreement were signed during the year, and the Apache license remains one of the most popular open source licenses.
Many other significant items are described in the report, which can be found here.