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For Open Source, the Future is Now.

From corporate uptake, to consumer usage, and government oversight, the only direction open source can go in 2021 is… everywhere.

November 10, 2020 13:37 IST
Red Hat

Making predictions about the future - especially now - would seem like a fool’s errand, but it’s easier when considering what the future holds for open source software, because the answer is quite simply… Yes.

Almost 40 years after the principles of open source were outlined in a brief blog post, open source is everywhere. Linux runs the world’s supercomputers, your smart TV, air traffic control, NASA, the New York Stock Exchange, and it’s a reasonable bet that this article you're reading is hosted on Linux too. 

Open source software has been quietly humming away underneath our business decisions and consumer activity for years, but awareness of open source and its benefits has recently moved beyond the conversations being had among developers or in company IT departments. 

As end-users become increasingly aware of the ubiquity of open source software - whether as part of their business plans, or in the apps on their smartphone’s home screen - they will want a say in how that software works. 

What the market wants…

As concerns about privacy have entered our conversations about tech over the last decade, the ‘open’ nature of open source - being able to examine the code - will become of interest to consumers. As technology becomes more predictive, consumers will want to know what data are being collected and how they are being used. As smartphone usage grows (an estimated 3.8 billion by 2021), the lack of transparency over social networks’ algorithms today is going to create a demand for openness tomorrow. 

Businesses already depend on open source to function. And whether they are tech companies or not, all companies today rely on tech to go to market. The above mentioned growth in smartphone usage, alongside the Internet of Things, driverless cars, and so on, will require cloud infrastructure which dwarfs what is currently in use, and the cloud is open source. 

What’s in the box?

At a time when electrical appliances are sold with sealed plugs so you have to buy a whole new unit when the fuse blows, open source hardware creators release the schematics, CAD files, logic designs and any other documentation so users can study, troubleshoot, and create new versions of the hardware - with the modified plans then released back to the community in the best traditions of open source. 

The most successful open hardware projects include DIY drones (with autopilot systems), underwater robots, 3D printers, and of course, the Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized computer where open source hardware and software meet to teach the next generation of creators and developers.  


There is one area of the open source community that needs to be addressed if we are to take full advantage of its possibilities. As open source grows, with new developers joining open source communities, new projects appearing, and outside investment in those projects skyrocketing, there is still a lack of persity among the open source community. Despite the efforts made in recent years to extend S.T.E.A.M education to young women, the majority of developers still fit certain demographics. 

To promote greater persity, open source pioneers Red Hat set up the Women in Open Source awards, and it takes its CO.LAB workshops into schools around the world to teach middle school aged girls how to build and code their own devices within an open source, collaborative framework. As consumers embrace open source, the make-up of the developer community will have to mirror that of those making feature requests if those modifications are to fit the needs of the users.

The future of open source... is now

So where will open source go next? We have the Linux Foundation, the Open Hardware Foundation, the Open Education, Government, and Science Foundations. So what can we expect? The Quantum Open Source Foundation? Too late, that already exists, and it oversees a growing number of open source quantum computing projects. 

Open source is at its best when developers are solving real-world problems. And when you combine the development cycles of open source, with feature requests from a million users, the open source community will be solving problems at a rate proprietary developers can’t match.

So if you’re wondering what the future of open source will look like, you probably won’t have to wait very long to find out.

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