Open Source Week to be marked in South Africa

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Muggie van Staden, MD of Obsidian Systems
Muggie van Staden, MD of Obsidian Systems

Open source is alive and well and flourishing in South Africa, albeit that the concept and form of open source is evolving and purists may question the validity of the pedigree of some claimants to the title.

That’s the view of Muggie van Staden, MD of open source technology and services provider Obsidian Systems, which is the platinum sponsor – in partnership with Red Hat, Redis, Gitlab and Chef – of next week's series of open source conferences, that underpin Open Source Week in South Africa.

The fact that this is the second consecutive year that the conferences are taking place “after a very long time during which we had nothing similar in this country” is an indication that the local open source community is flourishing, Van Staden said.

However, whereas open source events in the past tended to be a strictly community-related event attended by individual open source enthusiasts, today businesses are becoming involved both as conference sponsors and as users of open source. This is yet another affirmation of just how “mainstream” open source has become.

“For the past 25 years, Obsidian has been punting open source, saying that someday, the world will only develop software in an open source fashion. Now we’re in a position to say ‘we told you so’ when companies like IBM and Microsoft make huge investments in the open source community; and technologies like Kubernetes become the de facto way for orchestration of containers by all vendors – everyone uses it and it’s open source that makes that possible,” he added.

However, open source itself is changing and the lines between what is and what isn’t open source are becoming blurred.

In the past, the perception of open source was that everything was free, meaning you never had to pay for anything. The source code was freely available, enabling people to collaborate on it, and if you made changes you would have to give it back. Typically, there was no financial transaction involved at all.

It doesn’t matter if it is pure, traditional open source... What matters is whether it is open standards, cross-platform and enables you to avoid lock-in to any software vendor.

Then came enterprise editions of free open source software such as Enterprise Linux which required some payment if not for the software itself, then for services and add-ons around it.

Now, there are “open source” companies in various guises: some make their source code available but not some additional proprietary elements that may be included. This is sometimes referred to as “open core” or “source open”. Other models which may carry the label “open source” but stray from the original concept of open and free, are those in which the software is developed using open source projects but access to the end-product requires the purchasing of a licence.  

“Open source is not as clear cut as it used to be. Open source enthusiasts and purists may lament the changes, and there are likely to be many arguments at the upcoming conferences about what is and what isn’t open source. The question is – does it matter?” Van Staden asked.

“At the end of the day, the question to ask is: what do you want out of the software? For me, it doesn’t matter if it is pure, traditional open source; open core or even proprietary. What matters is whether it is open standards, cross-platform and enables you to avoid lock-in to any software vendor,” Van Staden concludes.

The three Open Source conferences,  LinuxConf, PostgresConf and PyConZA, take place in Johannesburg from October 7 – 11. 

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