In the past, great ideas were hoarded.
People spent an incredible amount of time and resources protecting their intellectual property from “thought thieves”. An idea was born, and kept safely hidden from the world until slapped with a patent.
But ideas are not a finite resource that should be locked away. When ideas are left to grow in the dark, they cannot flourish.
While profits may be available in the short term, inhibiting widespread access to unique insights and original code can kill our potential for future growth – not just for inidividual projects but for industries at large.
Luckily, the internet has changed things for the better.
In the show “Devs”, employees of a tech giant were contracted to take proprietary secrets to the grave.
What is Open-Source Technology?
Open-source means that the source code is available for the world to see. Anyone is free to use, modify, fork and redistribute the project’s code as they like.
The original protocols, software and languages which make up the internet have always been openly shared and freely distributed. This is what enabled the web to scale and innovate very quickly.
Today, 99% of commerical codebases contain at least some open-source components, with open-source comprising 70% of code overall.
Today, open-source represents a philosophy. The core principle is collaboration, which has become an ingrained behaviour in the technology community.
The movement encourages programmers and teams to find new ways to solve problems in their communities and industries. In this way, developers build on each other’s strengths to deliver the best product or find the most elegant solution possible.
Before the internet, most companies believed that they had to keep their work secret to be competitive. Many of the most successful technology companies today wouldn’t exist without others building on their ideas.
Those less familar with technology may wonder how a company can make money if their source code is available for anyone to download. There is certainly a time and place for proprietary code, but many companies find that allowing access makes their product better.
Having access to the Google source code doesn’t mean you have the means or capability to build a rival search engine. But it’s nice to know how it’s done, so you can feed off others’ thinking and approach.
It’s also better for the ecosystem as a whole. Overall, innovation is driven forward at a quicker pace and with limitless creativity.
Tim Berners-Lee, founding father of the internet, sadly believes that powerful corporations today have become gatekeepers of such innovation.
Berners-Lee has spent much of his career challenging this concentration of control, instead “championing information sharing, openness and personal empowerment online.” He notes that the web really took off after Red Hat brought Linux, the open-source operating system, into corporate data centers.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
The Benefits of Open-Source Technology
There are some key reasons why projects may open-source their code, or have in-house programs dedicated to open-soure initiatives;
🔍 Peer-reviewed security & transparency
Giving skilled developers across the world access to source code helps exploit weaknesses and security vulnerabilities autonomously. Bitwarden is one example. It’s considered one of the most secure password managers online. Allowing public access to Bitwarden’s source code exposes any security flaws. The application is much more secure because thousands of people all over the world are able to scrutanize and detect issues. If Bitwarden was only being tested by a small group of programmers, it would be much less secure.
🤝 Community support & reliability
The community-building component of open-source software is one of its biggest advantages. Good ideas attract the best talent on earth. Many companies that prescribe to the open-source methodology are backed by thriving communities who are passionate or incentivized to contribute. Bringing people together under a common purpose creates the best possible outcomes and allows the platform to reach its full potential.
🚀 Lower operating costs, more profit
Most technology companies built on open-source frameworks have much lower operating fees. Patents, licensing fees and restricting access are costly for businesses who own proprietary code. It also means that companies must rely on individual authors to keep things running and regularly updated.
Side note: open-source software is often copyrighted and can be patented.
Research by the TODO group has shown that the benefits of open-source program offices (OSPO) or foundations continue to be appreciated. Of those companies surveyed, 56% still say it is very or extremely critical for success. And the longer that OSPO exists, the more value it brings to their engineering success.
Their 2020 survey shows that there are high returns on invesment just by being members of an open-source foundation.
An earlier TODO survey has also shown that companies who offer OSPOs experienced benefits such as higher quality code, increased development agility and speed, faster time to market, and culture and interaction improvement.
But open-source is not the be-all-end-all philosophy of programming. Many companies can benefit more from a hybrid approach, where they may offer SaaS (software as a service) or monetize features of their open-source platforms.
Examples of Companies that Use Open-Source Software
One of the original proponents of open-source technology is the Linux operating system. Linux has made its source code available since its launch in 1991. Developers can even modify and sell their version of the operating system as long as they license it under the Linux name. Many developers prefer Linux over IOS and Windows because it is more customizable. Its applications, word processors, photo editors and web browsers can be switched out and altered.
The Linux Foundation provides a neutral, trusted home for developers to collaborate on open technology projects. Developers are encoruaged to contribute to hundreds (if not thousands) of different projects.
The success of the world’s largest CMS, WordPress, is also built on open-source technology. Any developer can upload a plugin to the WordPress platform. Complete transparency and user input make WordPress the most functional CMS available online. In fact, over 40% of all websites are hosted on the WP platform.
The WordPress “Bill of Rights”. WordPress contributors work around the globe, and have dedicated countless hours to build a tool that democratizes publishing.
How Mysterium Uses Open-Source Technology to Build a Censorship-Free Internet
Our team operates in the blockchain space, where collaboration is one of our industry’s biggest strengths and (not-so) secret weapons. Other technology sectors and companies may want to keep their code private to remain competitive. They want to outperform, rather than lift up, other projects to maximize their profit.
This has been the opposite for decentralized communities. By partnering, collaborating and learning together, the development of our ecosystem has accelerated beyond our wildest expectations.
Mysterium is building a decentralized VPN and other tools that allow you to browse the internet freely. We’ve had over 100K downloads though we’re still in BETA. Our distributed network has grown to 1600+ nodes, with 200Tb of traffic flowing throughout it. And our software has always been 100% open.
Our users also don’t pay us a cent (it’s purely peer-to-peer, so they pay each other). We are proudly a grassroots project, powered by our users and contributors.
It may seem counter-intuitive to open-source software that by design is meant to secure and anonymize our users. But we believe in total freedom of information. We are creating a censorship-resistant layer of the internet that cannot be switched off or taken away. If we want a transparent, completely accessible internet for all, we can start with our own code.
We also need our community to trust us. They’re depending on us to encrypt their data and protect them from online surveillance. In countries where people are routinely jailed just for accessing certain websites or even “liking” something on social media, our responsibility is huge.
Many regular VPNs can keep logs of their users’ activity, even though they say they don’t. You have to take their word for it. Nobody can be really sure that they’re not storing your information in their centralized servers, cooperating with governments or selling your browsing data to 3rd parties. NordVPN, one of the more popular centralized VPNs, was also hacked a couple years back.
In a trustless ecosystem like ours, you can verify what we say is true. Our distributed architecture removes any technical possibility for collecting or storing logs centrally. And remember what we said earlier about Bitwarden? Our technology can only become more secure through its own transparency.
We also take the open-source ideology to the next level by not only giving access to our source code, but finanically incentivizing our community to openly build on – or plug into – the network. The Mysterium community can sell VPN services with their spare bandwidth and earn cryptocurrency in the process. So we don’t just collaborate with programmers, we collaborate with our every day users.
Open-source technology is the future. The only way forward is to be open. By learning from each other’s mistakes and building on our accomplishments, anything is possible.