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Without Community, It’s Not Open Source

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A lightly edited transcript of our interview with Rob Hirschfeld, Founder and CEO of RackN, a company that automates and integrates bare-metal infrastructure.

Swapnil Bhartiya: The definition of open source may vary, depending on how you look at it. As long as there is source code available on GitLab or GitHub or your own site that I can play with, tweak it and re-release it. That’s open source. Both FSF and OSI have made it clear in their definitions of Open Source. People may disagree, but that’s essentially the primary idea of open source. The idea is that a user should have the right to study, modify and redistribute the code. It has nothing to do with ‘how’ you develop that code and whether you build a community around it or do it yourself. 

Rob Hirschfeld: The RedMonk team’s Stephen O’Grady has been pretty clear that “source available” licensing isn’t open-source, if there is no community maintaining it. That is the challenge. When there’s a certain degree of free money and everybody is confident in profits, when it’s clear that you’re going to make money around the source code, then I can see community-developed open-source being really attractive.

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I would love to have a debate about this. You and I are discussing it and it’s not clear what the right answers are. It’s an evolving thing and people are going to have to shift, and I would love for people to show examples of projects maintained in a community by a group of vendors that are recession-proof. We have not seen this problem in the last 10 years, so never had to worry about it.

NPM is a great example of that. Microsoft has a huge reason through Git to make sure that it’s sustained because it’s a central component in a lot of Git repositories; it’s basically a library that puts them more in the middle of things, which is what they’re trying to do. We’ll see what happens with other open-source projects.

TFiR Note: What do you think is ‘open source’? How would you define it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Watch full interview here:

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