Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, July 4, 2020
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Doubts Surface in Open Source Survey 

Open source software development is thriving, but a growing number of developers worry that momentum cannot be sustained as large corporations continue snapping up startups that helped fuel the movement.

A report released this week also revealed concerns about a lack of diversity within the open source community.

While an annual survey on the state of open source development detected an uptick in the number of programmers participating in new projects, about one-third of respondents expressed doubt of the future sustainability of open source technologies.

The poll released by cloud development platform vendor DigitalOcean reported that lack of corporate funding and other support threatens to slow the growth of open source development.

“Self-serving intentions and restrictive licenses were the two biggest issues for developers concerned about big tech, while the third who are unconcerned feel the big tech players provide important resources for the community,” DigitalOcean noted in a blog post releasing its survey results.

Of particular concern are recent acquisitions, including Microsoft’s deal last year to buy the GitHub collaboration platform and IBM’s blockbuster deal for open-source leader Red Hat. Microsoft pledged in announcing its June 2018 acquisition of GitHub that it would retain its “developer-first ethos.” Thus far, IBM has maintained a mostly hands-off approach to Red Hat. Google is also seen as developer friendly.

“Developers are concerned because they question the intentions of big tech companies, since these companies abuse restrictive licenses for competitive advantages,” the survey report noted. Respondents identified Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft as “relatively friendly toward the open source community” while Apple is viewed as “distinctly unfriendly toward open source.”

Despite growing unease about those and other recent acquisitions, DigitalOcean’s survey found that 63 percent of developers it polled participate in open source projects, an 8 percent increase over last year. Of those, 60 percent said they have increased involvement in specific projects in the last 12 months.

The survey of more than 5,800 developers also found that motivations for participating in open source projects varied, often according to demographics. “While men tend to contribute simply because they enjoy it, women are more likely to cite their desire to learn new skills as a key participation driver.”

Younger developers, especially women, said they felt less welcome when contributing to open source projects. Only one-third of women surveyed were satisfied with diversity in the open source community while one-quarter rated diversity as poor.

Nearly a quarter of female developers said they would contribute more frequently to open development projects if they were more inclusive, while about two-thirds said they would increase participation if provided more opportunities and resources to help them get started.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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