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Time Till Open Source Alternative

Open source is coming for the business. This is a matter of time before there is a compelling open source option to your software. It wont happen overnight, it’ll begin as an unhealthy alternative, but slowly growing to end up being the robust and cheap (actually, free!) solution that everyone uses.

In this website post, Ill prove this for you with data. I present a measurement I call Time Till Open Source Alternative (TTOSA) which represents just how long a proprietary software lasted with out a direct open source alternative.

The common TTOSA for the cases I measured is 7 years, and that appears like plenty of time for a small business to be profitable with proprietary software, especially considering that after the open source alternative hits the marketplace, it still takes years until it could outright displace the proprietary champion. Doesnt look like theres an issue here. However, TTOSA is accelerating, its becoming easier and simpler to build open source alternatives, and lately weve been seeing a lot of these pop-up on GitHub. The existing world record for quickest TTOSA is 244 days, held by Foam, an alternative solution to Roam Research. It is a trend, also it means lots of things for future years of software and the related businesses.

The info

Ive been occasionally collecting data because of this manually, and its own large enough now to create. The next table lists proprietary software and corresponding open source alternatives which were directly inspired by the proprietary software. For both, I tried to look for the birth date of the program, that was often either the date the business was founded, or the date of the original commit. My source for these dates has been Crunchbase, Wikipedia, and git logs on GitHub.

Time Till Open Source Alternative is then thought as the difference between those dates, let’s assume that the proprietary software always comes first. I identified 39 cases, start to see the table below, or obtain the raw CSV here.

Time Till Open Source Alternative, table

Plotting this data on a chart, where in fact the X-axis may be the the date the business was founded, and the Y-axis may be the associated TTOSA, we obtain the following:

Time Till Open Source Alternative, chart

A couple of things become clear with this particular chart: first, there’s an explosion of dots following the mid 2000s, which probably is correlated with the rise of the net and subsequently the GitHub era (GitHub was founded in 2008). Second, the trend is downward.

Measurement method

The keen reader may observe that 39 open source alternatives doesnt look like a whole lot. Some popular open source projects will come immediately in your thoughts rather than be on that list. For example, the Apache HTTP Server isn’t on the list.

Thats because Im measuring direct alternatives to proprietary software. Apache had not been created as a direct alternative to some known proprietary software, even though in practice it might replace proprietary software at that time. Contrast that with GNU/Linux, for example, where in fact the name GNUs Not Unix makes a primary mention of Unix. Open source alternatives like this typically have the name of these proprietary counterpart mentioned in the README. Those will be the forms of open source projects Im covering with this particular list. EASILY missed any significant case, please feel absolve to open a pull request to update the table.

Another important metric may be the selection of birth date for a project. Your day an organization is founded, their product barely even exists, and most likely the market does not have any idea about any of it. So it might seem silly which were measuring time till open source beginning with that date, as the proprietary software have not yet acquired awareness on the market. It could also seem wrong to choose the open source alternatives initial commit because the day we’ve a viable option to the proprietary software. At that time, we certainly dont!

However, we dont have a great way of determining your day a product has turned into a viable solution on the market. When exactly did Sublime Text recognition? Its hard to obtain a precise date. When exactly did Atom and VSCode rise as popular alternatives to Sublime Text? We dont know.

So we are in need of a precise date, and the birth date for a project is the greatest we are able to get. We then expect that projects like Sublime Text and Atom take exactly the same timeframe to cultivate from day one until popular. Thats why we utilize the difference between birth dates, since it probably approximates difference between market popularity dates sufficiently.

A couple of caveats

Lets be considered a bit skeptic concerning this data for an instant, we are able to learn several truths from the facts. This set of open source projects includes a mixture of complex projects, simple projects, popular projects, and just-5k-GitHub-stars projects.

For example, take BitKeeper (proprietary) versus Git (open source). Anyone who’s a developer today knows what Git is, while BitKeeper is a small anecdote in Gits history. Contrast that with Apple Siri known by everyone having an iPhone versus SEPIA Framework, which includes 70 stars on GitHub.

It really is clear these open source projects are in various stages of maturity and industry leadership, and its own an extended shot to state that SEPIA Framework will disrupt Siri. Because there is an open source option to something, doesnt imply that this alternative is yet of top quality. There is ordinarily a long journey for these projects before they’re ready for mainstream. Thats a complete another aspect to measure.

Having said that, TTOSA continues to be a robust measurement since it tells us it doesnt take long and soon you have some type of barely usable option to a proprietary software. If we’d measure Time Till TOP QUALITY Open Source Alternative, we’d find out that duh it requires much more time. But, maybe we’d also look for a downward trend for the reason that dataset. And thats a robust trend. Top quality open source should send a chill down the spine of business dudes, plus they already exist: Linux, VLC, Firefox, Git, OBS.

The projects in this list also vary in complexity. Its easier to create an open source option to a text editor like Workflowy or Roam, than it really is to create an open source option to YouTube.

Another story to find out is that the majority of these open source alternatives appear to be built by companies, not by open source hackers within their free time, and the ones companies desire to earn money. Examples: Excalidraw, GitLab, Bitwarden. The freemium open source business design is basically a means of preventing your organization from being disrupted by third-party open source alternatives, as you control the open source in the first place, and you also benefit by the city and contributors. This implies a very important factor, though: you admit you dont earn money from software, you earn money from another thing, be that cloud hosting, support, corporate-specific features, or another thing.

Finally, a blind spot in this dataset may be the green triangle in the chart below:

Time Till Open Source Alternative, chart showing today and the future

This means that maybe soon in the entire year 2023 you will have lots of open source alternatives found that have a TTOSA number as high as (say) 5000, thus landing the green area above. This might mean our downward trend is incorrect, because we havent waited long enough to start to see the full picture.

That is clearly a theoretical possibility, and the green triangle will always exist in this chart, regardless of how far later on we go. A counterpoint to the blind spot is that the planet record for lowest TTOSA has been broken, decade after decade. In the 80s it had been 2192 days, in the 90s it had been 1725 days, in the 2000s it had been 1094, in the 2010s it had been 244.

The endgame?

All software will undoubtedly be open source, no one can make money with software.

Thats a fairly tough claim to simply accept, so lets digest it in parts. Is all software becoming open source? You’ll always be in a position to write software and keep it secret, so thats already a refutation. Not absolutely all software will necessary most probably source. Thats not my point.

My point is that software on the market will undoubtedly be open source, and its own due to two trends. (1) Software is now simpler to create and better to share its source code. The rise of high-level and/or interpreted languages made the creation of software easy, then one that you can do in several weekends in order to. The rise of GitHub means it is possible to upload assembling your project with three words and 10 seconds: gh repo create. Which is really a feedback loop: libraries made open source become used to improve productivity of increasingly more programmers, who subsequently publish more open source code.

(2) Closed software dies when resources go out, but open source software only dies when public interest runs out. There are many examples I possibly could reference to brilliant proprietary software that existed for a short passage of time, due to the fact the startup that birthed it went bankrupt, or the tech giant discontinued the merchandise due to resource allocation. I really believe you can develop your personal recollections of the.

However, open source exists public, and receives care from fellow contributors compared to the quantity of attention and interest the project gets. Im not saying that open source projects never die, some definitely do. Im saying that popular open source projects never die, because after they are popular enough, there exists a sufficient level of contributors to help keep it alive. As a vivid exemplory case of this, my pal and ex-coworker Jani Evkallio built Foam in 2 months and unfortunately burned out. He never touched Foam again. However, by that point, the project gathered enough popular interest, and you can find regular contributors who keep carefully the project alive and relevant, updating it on a monthly basis, for days gone by 24 months.

As time passes, which means that the open source ecosystem includes a unique leverage on the startup ecosystem: startups have runways which avoid the indefinite growth of these product, unless they hit the proper mix of luck and client satisfaction. But popular open source is unconstrained, it only gets better as time passes. And weve come quite a distance. Blender was previously cringe for 3D modelling, nowadays Blender is punch-in-the-face awesome, and it’ll get better still.

Finally, to handle the nobody can make money with software claim. Open source software hardly makes hardly any money, and can make even less overall later on. I explored this aspect comprehensive in a previous post titled Software below the poverty line. The result this has available is that it reduces the purchase price point of software, whether its open or closed. If your closed software demands $1000 from my pocket but I could put up with a free of charge and open source alternative, I’ll pick the open one.

At a macroscopic scale, this forces closed software companies to lessen their pricing to raised match everything you can get on the market. Several companies are actually providing their software at price zero, plus they monetize in different ways. B2B companies (like GitLab) just make their software open source and quit attempting to compete in the software-for-sale market, monetizing on support, hosting, along with other means instead. B2C companies like social media marketing platforms monetize on attention, via ads. They could open source their software, nonetheless it makes little sense, because its so closely linked with their data center infrastructure. The idea to be produced here’s that those platforms monetize their databases, not their software. Actually, their software is basically oriented towards taking proper care of this valuable, humongous and sensitive database. Software itself really doesnt have another to make money.

Later on and perhaps itll have a couple more decades all software will undoubtedly be open source, no one can make money with software. And I believe thats a very important thing.

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Copyright (C) 2022 Andre ‘Staltz’ Medeiros, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0, translations to other languages allowed. You may make sure that the writer wrote this post by copy-pasting this signature into this Keybase page.

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