Corporate Sponsored OSS

Published See discussion on Twitter

This tweet garnered a decent amount of attention (at least within OSS circles on Twitter) at the end of last year:

It called out something that I've thought about a decent amount of the past few months, open source software projects owned and run by companies are ironically less sturdy than individual or collective run open source software projects.

To fully understand, we need to get a better overall view of the dynamics of a company open sourcing a project. Often there are a variety of internal pressures (developers wanting to open source to showcase a solution, teams wanting to prioritize feature work over open source maintenance, leadership looking for popularity), these all mix together to result in what feels like a worse overall product.

Unfortunately, what I've seen first hand, is that the team / company ends up out weighing the wants of the individuals to stop maintaining the open source software. This pushes some individuals to give up on supporting the project, or some to put in extra hours to support it outside of work also.

Additionally, when the champions of the project internally move on (either leaving the team to another one, or leaving the company entirely), the project will slowly rot away. Sometimes others will chip in and support the project, but usually it will just collect dust.

Often also, the only reason that leadership at these companies wants to pursue open source software development is for the public relations / image benefits that come with it. Mostly this is done to convince people to apply and work at the company.

With all of this however, at best open source software from companies really just means "shared source software", rarely (if ever) will external contributions be supported or even acknowledged.

Ideally, corporate backed open source software feels like the best balance, provide a way to open source a project while backing it with real funding. However in practice it often never reaches that ideal state.