The Case for Open Source Software at Work

Open source has entered the limelight at work. Not only is it frequently being used in businesses – but it’s helping people build their professional reputations, according to the recently released 2017 GitHub Open Source Survey.

Notably, half of the 5,500 survey GitHub contributors say that their open source work was somewhat or very important in getting their current role.

The survey found nearly all (94 percent) employed respondents use open source at least sometimes professionally (81 percent use it frequently), and 65 percent of those who contribute back do so as part of their work duties.

Also striking is the fact that most respondents (82 percent) say their employers accept – or encourage – use of open source applications and dependencies in their code base (84 percent), although some said their employers’ policies on use of open source are unclear (applications: 13 percent; dependencies: 11 percent).

The survey also found that nearly half (47 percent) of respondents’ employers have an IP policy that allows them to contribute to open source without permission, while another 12 percent can do so with permission. There is also a grey area here: 28 percent say their employer’s IP policy is unclear and another 9 percent aren’t sure how a company’s IP agreement handles open source contributions.

Large Companies Are On Board

The attention open source is receiving is no doubt helped by the fact that it is, well, open, allowing anyone to participate, regardless of the company they work at, enabling a variety of different perspectives. Some of the world’s largest companies – including Walmart, ExxonMobil, and Wells Fargo — are using the software as well as open sourcing their own code. The government has taken notice, too. In 2016, the Obama administration released its first official federal source code policy, which stipulates that “new custom-developed Federal source code be made broadly available for reuse across the Federal Government.”

TechCrunch recently released an index of the top 40 open source projects occurring in enterprise IT. They include IT operations; data and analytics, including tools for artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as databases; and DevOps, which includes projects involving containerization.

Some of the attributes of open source software clearly contribute to its increasing use on the job; the survey revealed stability and user experience are “extremely important” to 88 percent of respondents and “important” to 75 percent. Yet, these same attributes don’t make open source a superior option — only 36 percent said the user experience is better, and 30 percent find it more stable than proprietary options. However, open source software remains the preferred option for 72 percent of respondents who say they gravitate toward it when evaluating new tools.

Access to the software code makes developing with open source a “no-brainer,” writes Jack Wallen in a TechRepublic article on the 10 best uses for open source software in the business world. Among the other compelling use cases he cites for open source: big data, cloud, collaboration, workflow, multimedia, and e-commerce projects.

Typically, when an issue is discovered in open source, it can be reviewed and addressed quickly by either internal or third-party software developers. Contrast that with using proprietary software, where you are beholden to the software vendor or partner to provide software updates, and their timing may be different from yours. Additionally, if a bug is found, is it more likely to be identified and resolved faster when the source code is readily available, avoiding issues that occur when closed, proprietary systems are used.

The GitHub survey’s 5,500 respondents were randomly sampled and sourced from more than 3,800 open source repositories on GitHub.com, and more than 500 responses were from a non-random sample of communities who work on other platforms.

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