Big Open Source
May 2023 - Alex Alejandre

tl;dr: Open source is a moat for big tech. SaaS is the best startups can do right now.


We all love open source (far better than 500 line DLLs with license codes). Our modern ecosystem offers accelerated innovation, transparency, security and all the good stuff. But there are problems today:

  • Donating is easy, but people don’t want to pay The space is still developping. Thanks.dev looks best atm. (and I criticize big tech when it finally pays.)
  • Corporate open source becomes a vendor onramp.
  • The community shames selective licenses (AGPL/EUPL/Commons Clause) which limit larger entities from using without contribution. Relatedly, contributors often get brigaded by community entitlement and don’t say ‘No’ enough.

Today, profitable companies control decision making (what to add/exclude) in key projects, not the community. This gravity pulls projects towards extreme complexity, specialized for scale beyond what most companies will ever see - with all users paying the complexity burden. (Google’s code isn’t sufficient.) In effect Kubernetes et al. are memetic weapons, devouring mindshare and seducing the competition to lower velocity by overengineering and burning capital.

Interesting dynamics play out between big companies though. While Amazon stripmines open source to make it consumable via AWS products/features, Google champions multicloud (Kubernetes), great for a new cloud provider fighting for marketshare (against platformlocking competition.)

Standards setting 1 is another key battlefield. We already saw open standards fail. Now, open source victors standardize 2 domains on a single framework and API, a new sort of regulatory capture.

There are some nice developments like how the EU praises open source as source of independence from American vendors, but this doesn’t result in funding to existing projects. Where we stand, the best a fan of a new company can do is emulate the big guys and try to capture its own space but it doesn’t always work.


Sources:

  • The Relationship Between Open Source Software and Standard Setting - Knut Blind, Mirko Böhm
  • Standard-Setting Organizations: Patents, Price Fixing, and Per Se Legality - Patrick D. Curran