Key TakeawaysMicrosoft believes open source software is the new “industry-accepted model for cross-company collaboration.”Experts say we are heading into an open-source future since it allows for more collaboration and better innovation between industries. Investing in open source communities is the first step in making this innovation possible. Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images
Microsoft recently called open source software (OSS) the "industry-accepted model for cross-company collaboration." Experts believe that open source is likely the future for continued improved innovation.
OSS is software for which the source code is viewable and changeable by the public or otherwise open. Microsoft's shift from initially opposing OSS back in 2001 to actively promoting the model shows just where the software industry is going, and that open source will be a huge part of it.
"I think that [open source] is a very good trend, and I think companies are more and more recognizing the importance and usefulness of open source," Heikki Nousiainen, chief technology officer at Aiven, told Ach5 in a phone interview. "They see the value of open source as the foundation of modern information processing."
Improving and Collaborating
OSS allows programmers to improve the software by finding and fixing errors in the code, updating the software to work with new technology, and creating new features.
Last week, Microsoft's blog post touched on four important lessons that open source can teach us this year, including how different perspectives make better software and finding the perfect balance between policy and autonomy.
"We strongly believe that most of the hard (and, by that we mean interesting) problems of today will take a team or the whole industry to solve. This means we all need to be trustworthy and (corporately) self-aware participants in open source," wrote Sarah Novotny, Microsoft's open-source lead for the Azure Office of the chief technology officer, in a blog post.
Novotny added that "companies are working together more frequently, and the amount of cross-industry work we're able to accomplish is accelerating."Luis Alvarez / Getty Images
But we are very much already in an open-source world, since many of the things we use daily are run by open-source programs, including Android, Wordpress' content management system, Linux operating systems, and even Twitter.
Aside from the more popular platforms and programs we use every day, there's practically an open-source program for everything from video editing to writing music.
And, since the global pandemic has forced most of the workforce into a remote-first culture, moving to open source to communicate and collaborate only makes sense, even as we enter a post-pandemic world.
"[Open source] gives businesses peace of mind because they have guaranteed access to their own data regardless of what happens with the source of the software," Nousiainen said. "It gives businesses agility without having to invest a lot of time."
"Companies are working together more frequently, and the amount of cross-industry work we're able to accomplish is accelerating."
He added that while open source won't necessarily be the only type of software available, its benefits need to be recognized as we head into the new year facing new challenges.
"There certainly will be niches and new areas where there is room for traditional software as well, but I think the benefits of utilizing and sharing your own developments are so great it's definitely going to march on, and it's going to be even more and more common," Nousiainen said.
Getting to an Open Source Future
Part of the foundation of open source is building on one another's achievements, and Nousiainen said that is critical to driving innovation for the future.
"Being able to fix and improve upon what others have done is really important," he said.
However, Nousiainen said that the key to making open-source the future of the software industry is actually investing in these open source communities and making them a priority.Zokara / Getty Images
"Sometimes, open source is a box of tools, and it might be difficult to get started and run or operate software," he said.
Nousiainen said there is often a lack of structure around the adoption of these tools. Other hurdles the industry will have to overcome to make the future a reality are establishing more coding standards, implementing peer review, and focusing on security.
But with big players like IBM, Apple, Google, and now Microsoft backing OSS, these issues could be solved through collaboration, since, well, that's what it's all about.
"One important part of open source is perhaps not only the code itself but also sharing information and what kind of business problems it helps to solve," Nousiainen said.