Using the beekeeper analogy to explain OS innovation

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Muggie van Staden: As huge as Microsoft is, it still has fewer developers than the Linux community. Photography: Karolinna Komendera
Muggie van Staden: As huge as Microsoft is, it still has fewer developers than the Linux community. Photography: Karolinna Komendera

Open source software has been getting some bad press recently: it's been associated with some of the worst cases of software security breaches in recent times, the high number of vulnerabilities in open source code have been highlighted repeatedly, and in many instances, it is not free. In fact, it can be as expensive (and sometimes even more so) than its proprietary counterpart.

And then, when the bastions of proprietary software such as Microsoft become the proponents of open source, the question has to be asked in this, the 20th year since the official launch of the open source movement: has the open source revolution failed?

"Not at all. If anything, open source is stronger than ever," says Muggie van Staden, MD of open source solutions company Obsidian Systems.

"However, it is important to differentiate between 'community open source' and 'enterprise open source' and to remember that open source is not a religion: it is nothing more than a development methodology.

"The way open source drives development innovation cannot be matched by proprietary software developers, and that is why the giant software development houses like Microsoft have switched sides, from vilifying open source a few years ago, to becoming its largest supporters. They recognise that when it comes to innovation, they simply cannot compete. As huge as Microsoft is, it still has fewer developers than the Linux community."

Van Staden cites the beekeeper analogy that was popularised by James Dixon, a founder and CTO at Silicon Valley-based open source business intelligence company Pentaho, to explain the difference between community and enterprise open source.

The millions of innovative open source developers around the world can be likened to the bees that build a beehive. Through their collaboration as a development community, they produce valuable products like honey and wax (open source code) which can be used by any non-bee (enterprises) willing to approach the beehive without protection of a beekeeper.

As huge as Microsoft is, it still has fewer developers than the Linux community Open source is not a religion, it is nothing more than a development methodology.

Muggie van Staden, MD of open source solutions company Obsidian Systems

In the enterprise open source space, 'beekeepers' (organisations and businesses like Red Hat, Suse, Docker and the like) provide protection in the form of maintenance, security and other support services. These 'beekeepers' give the bees an environment in which they can flourish and innovate, but then effectively take their product, community open source projects, and make them enterprise ready.

"When an organisation purchases proprietary software, it expects the software developer to support the product, to provide patches for security vulnerabilities, to fix bugs and to ensure the technology has longevity. That is what you are paying for. The same applies in the open source arena," Van Staden says.

"There is nothing to stop any business from downloading free open source software for use in their organisation; in many instances this software may be very similar to that provided by the 'beekeepers'.

"However, without beekeepers to ensure the software is supported, maintained, regularly updated and enhanced for a significant period of time, enterprise users of community open source software could be stung by having to find and pay for the resources to manage and maintain their 'free' software."

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