How open source changed everything — again

We’re about to conclude another decade of open source, and what a long, strange trip it has been. Reading back through predictions made in 2009, no one had the foggiest clue that GitHub would change software development forever (and for everyone), or that Microsoft would go from open source pariah to the world’s largest contributor, or a host of other dramatic changes that became the new normal during a decade that was anything but normal.

We are all open sourcerors now as we round out the decade. Let’s look back at some of the most significant open source innovations that got us here.

A cloudy future

Open source was making headlines prior to 2010, of course, but much of the open source news back then was “free software” vs. “open source” religious wars and lawsuits against Linux. To run open source software, you were still calling IT to provision servers (or using a spare that just happened to be sitting under your desk). The cloud changed all that. Suddenly developers didn’t need to get a hall pass from IT to run their open source code. Just as open source freed developers from Purchasing/Legal approval, so too did the cloud shake developers free of the friction inherent in hardware.

The cloud, however, was just the enabler. As Corey Quinn highlights, the infrastructure has become “open source,” though not because the clouds themselves are available under an open source license: “It runs on clouds, but I can grab a Terraform plan or a Serverless config from GitHub and have a thing up and running to test it out almost instantly.” Open source licensing and swipe-and-go access to cloud hardware have opened up developer productivity in ways that might have been faintly visible in early 2010 (AWS was started in 2006, after all) but weren’t realized until well into the decade.

It’s Git all the way down

“The biggest thing that happened to open source in the last decade is the introduction by GitHub of the pull request,” declares Tobie Langel. Enabled by cloud, he continues, “GitHub gave open source visibility and lowered the playing field for collaboration by an order of magnitude.” That collaboration was always the heart of the open source promise, but it wasn’t until GitHub unlocked the social aspect of coding that it became real.

As Michael Uzquiano argues: “We had version control before, but GitHub/Lab really made it easy for anyone to fork code, try things, and contribute ideas back. Comments, issues, approval—it really delivered on the promise of code being open.” Git wasn’t born in in the last decade, but like cloud, it didn’t really boom until the 2010s.

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