When should you open source your software?

An overview of what to bear in mind when open sourcing a software project.

It’s 20 years since the term ‘Open Source’ was coined. In that time the movement for free and open software has gone from a niche to a common method of distribution and a normal way of operating for businesses.

Major technology shifts are now driven by open source technologies: Big Data (Hadoop, Spark), AI (TensorFlow, Caffe), and Containers (Docker, Kubernetes) are all open projects. Massive companies including Google, Facebook, and even Lyft regularly release Open Source tools for the world to use. Microsoft – whose former CEO once described Linux as a cancer – now embraces the concept. 

According to the latest developer survey by Stack Overflow, nearly 45% of developers contribute to open source projects. But when should an organization go from merely contributing to other projects to creating its own open source projects?

 

What to know before you open source a project

When and why:

The specifics of when to open source a project depend on the project you have in mind and the company’s goals. Perhaps it’s a new project that’s useful but not part of your core commercial strategy, perhaps it’s an internal tool that other may find useful. Maybe it’s a piece of software that’s come to the end of its useful lifecycle and legacy customers might find it useful. Maybe you want to speed development of a product and build your business on top of that. Or maybe you want to adopt a commercial open source business model based on services or Community & Enterprise editions of your software.

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