In August 1991, Linus Torvald, a 21-year-old student, decided to start a free operating system. What began as a hobby grew into the world’s first free operating system, Linux Kernel. Today, open-source software is a significant part of software development allowing developers to inspect, copy, modify, and redistribute software.
So, what is the status of open-source markets today? While proprietary software providers dominate the market, open-source software has picked up momentum lately—especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the global economic slowdown, the open-source market gathered steam in 2020 to meet remote organisational needs. As per GitHub, open-source project creation per any active user between late April 2019 and late April 2020 saw over 40 percent YOY growth.
The rise of open-source software in 2020, amidst a global pandemic, can be attributed to the sudden spike in demand for the faster development of software programmes and applications. In March 2020, GitHub noticed a major uptick in open-source projects. Many streaming websites even cut back on bandwidth consumption by reducing video streaming quality and download speeds. This is where open-source software comes in. With proprietary software being more costly in terms of speed of deployment, more enterprises turned to open-source software. Integrating open-source code accelerates software development. It makes information more democratised and thus allows a technically diverse group to develop applications rapidly. Many developers usually back open-source software, thus finding solutions to software problems and creating new applications much more straightforward. Also, reusing open-source code allows developers to build applications quicker than starting from scratch. Since open-source code can be thoroughly accessed and customised, these developers can make changes to elements of the code to suit their purpose. This is another advantage open-source code has over proprietary software code. Finally, businesses can also employ open-source tools to manage existing data and data production—which is vital to enterprises today—with higher levels of precision.
The open-source software explosion begs the question: Did the pandemic-driven shift to open-source markets carry over to 2021? As per a report by Red Hat Software, IT leaders view enterprise open-source software as superior to other forms of software. However, historically, application development was seen as the most critical use for open-source software, with the lower cost of ownership being seen as its primary benefit. In 2021, however, infrastructure modernisation and digital transformation have been the most critical use cases for enterprise open source. Major benefits included higher quality (especially in terms of access to innovation) and security.
Open-source software has contributed a lot in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Due to rapid innovation in the two fields, a massive amount of resources have been committed to accelerating suitable technologies.
Open-source software is also integral to architectures like cloud operating systems and edge computing. Linux has become the cloud operating system of choice due to its greater flexibility and lower cost. In 2021, the Linux operating systems market is expected to grow at 7 percent a year, reaching $9.7 billion by 2024. Open-source software providers find opportunities in the platform software and infrastructure software segments in edge computing, which are expected to grow from $10 billion in 2020 to $24.9 billion in 2024.
The open-source model has been incorporated into many large organisations. NASA has various open-source projects on GitHub as a part of its ‘Open Source Development’ model.
Of course, every rising technology stokes new fears. Unlike proprietary software, open-source software is not owned by anybody in particular. Thus, the biggest fear among these is that no entity will be ready to bear liability for adverse consequences. Another issue here arises from a legal standpoint. In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement over copying its Java API code. Recently, Elastic changed licensing terms of its open-source code after a spat with AWS.
Nonetheless, the benefits of open-source software seem to outweigh the costs. With the fast-changing nature of technology, the broader adoption of open-source software and the rise of open-source markets remains crucial.
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I am an economics undergrad who loves drinking coffee and writing about technology and finance. I like to play the ukulele and watch old movies when I'm free.