The Open Road Ahead: The Success Of Open Source Software

Open Source Software

Open source has irreversibly changed the current software landscape. Any developer will tell you how over the last decade open source projects have helped democratise and innovate software development. It has had a huge impact in particular on mobile technology; but open source projects have also been changing the face of the Internet for some time.

In many respects it’s been something of a silent partner. The revolution has been so quiet that many users still don’t even realise that the technology they are engaging with is in fact open source.

The time when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the browser windows of the world is behind us. Let’s take a look at Firefox: the browser transformed a stagnating market and helped reinvigorate Web development. It was a real game changer and introduced new features such as tabbed browsing and the ability to use plugins; innovations that we now take for granted.

Microsoft had a shock when it realised that the ‘underdog’ was in fact a real rival that had produced a game-changing, competitive product. But to this day, outside of the early adopters, most users are not even aware that the technology under the hood is open-source.

Google Chrome wouldn’t have been such a success story if Google hadn’t poached some of Mozilla’s key engineers, and along with it, the open source ethos. Chrome has now opened up its code in the form of the Chromium project.

But it is the Android mobile operating system that has been the key driver for bringing open source to widespread attention. Sure, Apple’s iPhone may have lit the spark of the smartphone revolution, but it was Android that made it accessible to all and brought it mass appeal.

Android currently has a hugely enviable market share that shows no signs of slowing. This begs the question: what caused this mass migration? It’s not a straight answer but it’s no secret that cost was a huge factor, Apple priced themselves high whilst Android has become the platform of choice for budget handsets.

But technology also provides a key insight, as many feel that Apple’s iOS has stifled in a closed ecosystem while Android has developed into an arguably more advanced platform through the virtue of being open source. The average mobile phone user probably does not even factor in the open source argument when making the decision about what device to purchase.

Some hard-core techies may have deliberately rejected Apple and its tightly locked-down software but it simply doesn’t matter to most; the only concerns being that the software is simple, user-friendly and just works.

Of course, the reasons for adoption in the consumer and developer market are distinctly different. Even though the average user may not think about what’s powering the sites they browse on a daily basis the fact remains that there would be no Google and no Facebook without Linux and other open source technologies.

Open source technology provided the foundation for the ubiquitous digital brands like Facebook, Google and Twitter to scale at the rate they needed to. Paying for an individual license for every server needed would have curbed these companies’ success; without Linux the internet would be a very different place now.

This evolution has been a huge success and open source is everywhere. Whether you realise it or not almost everyone is already using open source in their day-to-day in some capacity, a fact that undermines the assumption that you need to be a computer genius to use it.

Arguably open source software has done more to shape how we interact with technology today than any proprietary system. Collaboration, flexibility and innovation are the watch words of the open source manifesto, allowing it to evolve and scale rapidly to an often unassuming audience.

The future of is open, for the better…

Richard Landsman

Richard Landsman is CTO of Open-Xchange, overseeing product development and exploring new technological directions for the company. A proven authority on e-mail systems, having spent over a decade focusing specifically on the sector, Richard has worked in development of both carrier grade and consumer e-mail. Driven by a desire to innovate, and with over 20 patents to his name, Richard has a history of working with start-ups and disruptors including Project Slice, Mailblocks and iUniverse, delivering new products from concept to market. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Management and Finance from the University of Massachusetts and a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Boston University.