back to article OpenUK's latest report paints a rosy picture of open source adoption

OpenUK has released the second of its three-part probe into the state of open source in Britain, finding that an overwhelming majority of businesses use the wares – but noticeably fewer are willing to contribute code back. "The first of its kind, this report makes visible the current business adoption of open source software …

  1. Warm Braw Silver badge

    A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

    I think that's rather optimistic. If the company is getting all that value without having to contribute, you have to ask whether there really is any incentive to contribute and what additional value that specific business might get from doing so beyond a fuzzy sense of community spirit.

    It's also the case that a lot of the most-used open source projects need contributors with pretty specific skills - compiler specialists, kernel and driver developers - that many of the users of those projects will not themselves possess and be able to contribute in kind - which would in many ways be the easiest contribution to get past the accountants.

    In the rest of commerce, these problems are resolved by the price mechanism. I think we just have to accept that in the absence of that mechanism, the human tendency to take rather than give will prevail.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      Also - many companies aren't in a position to contribute.

      What does a hairdresser using an open source calendaring system contribute?

      What does a small retail company who uses open source office systems contribute?

      The fact that tech companies do is good - they are in a position to do so, but most companies don't have the capacity to do more than report any bugs they find nicely, and I'm sure that happens informally.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

        This! That vast majority of businesses are small. They likely don't have on-prem IT support at all, let alone anyone doing dev work that could contribute back. Almost all of them will be simple users/consumers of software. And even then, it's likely just some applications programmes which either does what they need "out of the box" or which they can can work around by changing their processes to match the software rather than customising the software to work the way they would like it to work.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      Actually that the dark side of open source - fewer companies driver the implementations and most of them are in too few sectors. Moreover without paying customers developers aren't interested in adding features outside the scope of the few actually paying their bills - but a few who don't need to code to live.

      There's a reason why software became uglier and clunkier to use.

    3. unimaginative
      Happy

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      Two thirds contribute back.

      Nearly half open source their own code.

      That is a lot.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Citation needed.

    4. cornetman Silver badge

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      It's easy to forget that an important way that companies can contribute to free software is by reporting bugs and following them up. People often think of bug reporters as takers, but in fact they are giving back in their own way, especially if they are willing to front the testing of fixes.

      The other shocking gap is in decent doc. I wish more users that can't program would step up and contribute in this way.

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

        Reporting bugs and testing fixes is one of the ways I contribute to open source however it can be a thankless task. Some maintainers can be less than friendly and there are a couple of libraries I'd love to ditch because the maintaner is an arse but can't because there's no decent alternative and I haven't found the time to write my own version.

    5. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      But if you do use open source you are contributing. You are encouraging the use of non-Microsoft, or whatever, software and so demonstrating that you don't need to use expensive, bloated software that offers no more to the average worker than you get with open source.

      If you use word processor software, then more or less all the time you can get the same results out of Open Office as you can out of Microsoft Office. And remember, just because you pay a support fee it doesn't mean the commercial company will give you what you want. And worse, once you have paid the support fee you are locking yourself in.

      A word processor (for instance) is a word processor whether it is commercial or open source. If you want to print out a letter you can do it just as effectively for free as well has having to (now) pay a subscription.

      Still, some people think Word (again as an example) is better than LibreOffice because you pay for it. We need to constantly push back on those (carefully cultivated) ideas to ensure there is proper choice, otherwise you will be left with no choice.

      Open source is brilliant in so many ways. Keep shouting that from the roof tops...

    6. big_D Silver badge

      Re: A company's commitment to participating ... would be much more prevalent

      It also depends on the company's make-up.

      I used to work for a software developer, that developed open source solutions (openVAS security tool and their commercial product with proprietary feeds, Greenbone GSM hardware appliances). We also pushed back into other projects, because we were a 100% open source company.

      On the other hand, where I am now, we have an IT department of 5 and zero developers, we use some OSS products, but we just configure them and use them. We don't have the resources to make changes ourselves, let alone push those changes back to the core OSS projects.

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Wilted roses

    75 per cent reported cost saving as the primary driver for open-source adoption

    Unfortunately, in such reports we are unlikely going to find out why and how those savings come about. The truth is that simply put contributors to open source projects are not being compensated. There are exceptions, of course, where some companies even put some contributors on their payroll, but I'd say majority of developers don't get paid.

    Given that it is not legal to work without compensation for a for-profit company - the worker needs to at least be paid a minimum wage, the Open Source software is a "great" way for companies to side step employment laws.

    Open source software is still a "rich kids" club, where people from impoverished backgrounds cannot participate in, as they simply cannot afford to work for free. This creates a social divide in the IT world, which we can still see today.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Wilted roses

      Open source software is still a "rich kids" club, where people from impoverished backgrounds cannot participate in, as they simply cannot afford to work for free. This creates a social divide in the IT world, which we can still see today.

      But it also creates a world where those same kids *can* engage with technology for free.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wilted roses

      "The truth is that simply put contributors to open source projects are not being compensated."

      Do you really think that all those developers working for Intel, Google Red Hat/IBM etc whose contributions make up the bulk of Linux aren't being paid? Truth? Really?

      And that word "compensation"? That's the sort of PR-speak that tells us that the modest sums being given to CEOs and the like is compensation for their distasteful labours. Most people are paid to do a job.

      If you mean "compensated" in the wider sense then those who have some particular need that isn't being met by existing software, or at least by anything they can afford, get together to produce their own solution, then they are being compensated. They're being compensated by getting what they wanted in the first place.

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        Re: Wilted roses

        "Do you really think that all those developers working for Intel, Google Red Hat/IBM etc whose contributions make up the bulk of Linux aren't being paid? Truth? Really?"

        Whilst they contribute much more these days, the vast majority of Linux was still written by people like you and I. Unpaid and purely for fun. Actually, many of these companies were actively hostile to Linux and in some ways I feel we deserve compensation for the lost man-hours faffing around their crap.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Wilted roses

          I've just posted extracts from a report of 2017. That puts corporate contributions at at least 85%. As you say, it's growing but a bit of Googling shows that earlier (2008, I think) it was already at 70%.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Wilted roses

        It's worth adding these two paragraphs from the 2017 report from linuxfoundation.org on Linux Kernel development, the latest I could find. They cover the period of kernel development cycles 4.8 to 4.13

        The top 10 contributors, including the groups “unknown” and “none,” make up just over 54 percent of the total contributions to the kernel; that is up slightly from the previous version of this report. It is worth noting that, even if one assumes that all of the “unknown” contributors are working on their own time, well over 85 percent of all kernel development is demonstrably done by developers who are being paid for their work.

        Interestingly, the volume of contributions from unpaid developers has been in slow decline for many years. It was 14.6 percent in the 2012 version of this report, but is 8.2 percent this time around. There are many possible reasons for this decline, but, arguably, the most plausible of those is quite simple: kernel developers are in short supply, so anybody who demonstrates an ability to get code into the mainline tends not to have trouble finding job offers. Indeed, the bigger problem can be fending those offers off. As a result, volunteer developers tend not to stay that way for long.

        The top contributor was Intel with 13.1% of changes. The next was the entire body of contributors with no affiliation at 8.2%. Red Hat was 3rd with 7.2% IBM was 6th with 4.1% - if those were taken together to reflect the subsequent merger they'd be the 2nd largest. Looking down the list there are, as expected, other S/W businesses - including Oracle with 1.7% but a lot are actually hardware manufacturers.

        The foundation also produced a report on 2020 contributors to FOSS in general. The most (just) common motivation given was "I use this piece of FOSS and needed the specific features/fixes I added".

        1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

          Re: Wilted roses

          So one of the biggest and commercially used OSS projects is still using free labour. The argument that some developers are being paid doesn't invalidate the fact that OSS facilitates exploitation.

          When it comes to corporate contribution, it does not mention how much the workers were paid or in what capacity they worked - for example, many employment contracts actually take ownership of the code that employee creates in his or hers spare time or do not pay for overtime. So those corporate developers that contributed actually may not have been compensated.

          Another question is the proportionality of compensation. Linux kernel made and makes corporations billions and billions every year, but this money doesn't "trickle down" to developers.

          Anyway - that's the deflection of the main topic - exploitativeness and divisiveness of open source.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Wilted roses

      It's not that simple. Using open source because it's free to use is one of many reasons for using it. But occasionally being able to tinker with the source (say one in a hundred libraries) is also a reason for many. In fact, open source projects often demonstrate greater responsiveness than commercial offerings.

      Releasing software as open source is a separate topic. For many, it's actually cheaper than setting up the infrastructure for licensing, but the main reason has always been peer review and the ability to walk away at any time. This has increasingly come to dominate software development which is why we're seeing more support contracts for open source: companies that are not prepared to contribute in some way to key software products are asking for trouble. The current situation is far from ideal, with many of the benefits of the model now accruing to the cloud providers, but is better than it was 10 years ago.

      You're right to say that people generally can't afford to live off open source, but, in many cases, the people working on an open source project are domain experts and, as such, likely to find their knowledge and skills in demand.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge
    Boffin

    Tickbox diplomacy

    One big problem with visibility is the abysmal track record of state bureaucracies, at both local and national level. Local ignorance will not shift unless and until central government blazes the trail.

    David Cameron's Cabinet Office moved heaven and earth to open up Departmental usage but was defeated by the tickbox culture. State bureaucracies have lists of approved suppliers. With very few exceptions, FOSS providers are not on those lists. Updating the list is a massive exercise in consultation and visibility of fair process, it takes years. But a) it is never a priority, and what state bureaucracy ever has time for its mere ToDo list. And b) the exercise is invariably administered by contractors supplied from commercial companies, who scrupulously exclude unreliable products from the lists, and of course the OSS competition is argued off the stage.

    And of course, when you pay good money, you buy yourself a scapegoat. Approve an OSS solution and you cannot duck the blame if the proverbial hits the fan. So what good pension-builder would ever risk losing their scapegoat? The Cabinet Office tried to introduce a presumption of OSS unless only a commercial offering met the requirement. Suddenly, security became a requirement, along with the dogma that OSS is inherently insecure. All OSS fell at the first hurdle.

    Yet some corners of some Departments do use OSS quite a lot, and would very much like to feed tweaks back into the community. But no, everything a civil servant writes is Crown copyright and may not be released under a permissive license. And that includes computer code. As a way round that it is possible to commission code from a contractor on any license you choose, but then you hit the "not on our list of approved licenses" wall that accompanies the purchasing tick list.

    Back to Square One.

    The only way to get things changed is to change statutory law, to allow Departments to reassign copyright in the public interest, to limit all State lists of approved suppliers and licenses to a finite life, to require all proprietary software purchases to be signed off by the Cabinet Office until the culture change sinks in, and to require all Departments to set up and empower an OSS adoptions and contributions office. Only then will we find out what I have missed off the list.

  4. Plest Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Contribute? Exhibit A - The Audacity fork

    I know that the Audacty fork thing is a very rare case but reminds us that the world has some right nutters out there who will have a go at someone for simply giving an OSS project a name they don't like!

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