Kris Bechamp

Are We Taking Open Source For Granted?

Free software. It's not really free. Time, effort, innovation and labor go into developing the open source projects that we use and often rely on. A lot of these projects live in the background. Many are known only to those that look under the hood. But these code bases are the building blocks of the net; the "dependencies" in our apps and OSs (see the EULA of OS X and you'll see open source projects listed). Some open source projects find funding through sales of support, licenses, and/or hosting. But quite a few are just put out there and sometimes they find their way into the tool boxes of devs and designers.

When you think about it, how many of the open source projects that you use all the time are not heavily funded operations? Popular tools like Vim/Emacs and tools like sed to niche languages like Tcl or Lua are all entrenched and still active. They may receive funding through the Free Software Foundation and donations, but when was the last time you paid any money or gave anything back to the developers of that editor, that library, that module that you always turn to?


This topic was inspired by an event that occurred February 5, 2015. The story of an open source project was showcased to the world. The showcase was not anything special, it was just a blog post and I only learned about it through a Slashdot RSS. But when GnuPG curator, Werner Koch, wrote a blog post breaking down the costs of maintaining that project, he received a large response. That blog post was made back in December but then one day the following February, word finally got out. That day over $200K in donations were pledged to keep the project alive. The largest donations were made by the Free Software Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative ($60K), Facebook ($50K), and Stripe ($50K).

Here are some related links:


GnuPG is only one example of backbone software projects that comprise the core of the internet's ecosystem. There are many others. A concerning notion is that in a time when privacy concerns — brought about by government and overreaching commercial entities — is the fact that many secure services are maintained by a handful of developers. These secure services are really at the front lines in defending privacy on the net. Awesome as these devs are, there is only so much a few people can do. Bugs exists and no amount of coverage testing is going to find them all (Have you every reached 100% coverage on a substantial project?).

Similar events have occurred. For example, HeartBleed, a bug found in the TLS implementation of OpenSSL. It surprised many to learn of the state that codebase was in and that it had a lack of maintainers. So much so that the OpenBSD project decided to fork and refactor it. Another event to touch entrenched open source code, was Shell Shock, which was a vulnerability in Bash's interpreter.

What are some other entrenched projects out there that are under funded/under resourced? What are their stories?


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