One question that keeps coming up as of late concerns the quality of open source software. While there’s no doubt that there is more dependency on open source than ever, a survey shows that with increased usage comes concerns over quality.
For that reason it was interesting to see Oracle recently announced that it had submitted a proposal to the Eclipse Foundation to create a Hudson project for Eclipse, the open source application development environment. Hudson is a well-regarded build server, originally developed by an employee of Sun Microsystems, that many application development organizations rely on to help manage the overall development process. Prior to the acquisition of Sun by Oracle, Sun had opted to release Hudson as free software under an MIT license.
According to Ted Farrell, Oracle chief architect and senior vice president for tools and middleware, Hudson needs some work in terms of making it an enterprise-class tool that enterprise application development teams can rely on. At the same time, Farrell says that Oracle sees Hudson as becoming a critical tool for delivering any type of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering that Oracle or others might want to develop in the future.
Oracle is obviously no stranger to open source given its experience with MySQL and Java. But if open source projects really do require some form of corporate benevolence, maybe the time has come to be a little more candid about where open source code actually emanates from. The popular perception is that open source code is created by diligent programmers contributing code based on passion and an internal meritocracy. In reality, a whole lot of open source code is developed by teams of people working under one form of corporate sponsorship or another.
That’s not a necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it feels like the industry is being a little disingenuous about the provenance of open source software as part of an ongoing war with companies such as Microsoft, even though Microsoft makes its own contributions when it comes to some open source projects.
None of this means that vendors should stop contributing to open source projects. The only real question is when should the IT industry stop pretending that open source software is the result of many of the same processes companies use to create commercial software. The only real difference increasingly seems to be whether it’s in a vendor’s interest to give that software away to gain some strategic advantage or to license that software for more direct commercial gain.
Given the perceptions of the quality of open source code, maybe the time has come to make the whole open source process a little more transparent, especially when it comes to the role that major vendors play in shaping it.