Imagine a world where open source never caught on, where no one thought it'd be a good idea to make source code available to anyone. In this episode, we imagine this bizarre possibility. And we celebrate the open source tools and methodologies that got us where we are today.
Join us as we wrap up Season 1, an almost 30,000-foot view of how the open source world came to be. Next season, we're zooming in and focusing on the epic struggles of today's command line heroes.
Voice Actor: In a world without open source, enforcers from the future travel back through time to destroy Linus Torvalds's computer.
Saron Yitbarek: Oh, man. I had that nightmare again. The one where I've got these amazing ideas, but I can't develop them because there's no open source tech to work with.
Tristram Oaten: I think a world without open source is almost bound to be evil.
Christopher Tozzi: If software had been closed in the 1980s and the source code had never
[00:00:30] been opened up again, I think that there'd be a lot less innovation for sure.
Vaughan-Nichols: It would be a backward world.
Hannah Cushman: I think there'd certainly be less smart refrigerators.
Voice Actor: In a world without smart refrigerators.
Saron Yitbarek: Okay, okay. You get the point. We're imagining a world without open source technology, and it's not very appealing. So picture it. Your online
[00:01:00] life managed and taxed by a few megalithic proprietary companies. Gatekeepers at every part of the road. For us developers, a world without open source would mean far less freedom—and influence.
All season long, we've been tracking the role of developers in an open source world. Our work has been evolving and expanding with the growth of the open source tools and techniques that make our work possible.
[00:01:30] Whether it's the Agile Manifesto, the rise of DevOps, or container orchestration, the power and freedom we've claimed for ourselves is tied to that philosophy of open source.
In our season finale, we're taking a step back and looking at how far we've come. As the world goes open source, how true to the original meaning of that term can we remain? And where are we headed next?
I'm Saron Yitbarek, and this is Command Line Heroes. An original
[00:02:00] podcast from Red Hat.
Episode 7: Days of Future Open
Vaughan-Nichols: A world without open source is not a world that I would want to live in, nor do I think that it is a world that the vast majority of people out there would want to live in.
Saron Yitbarek: This is Steven Vaughan-Nichols. You might remember him from Episodes 1 and 2 when we were talking about the OS wars. He's a contributing editor
[00:02:30] at CBS Interactive and he's been following tech since 300 bits per second was a fast modem.
Vaughan-Nichols: You may not be able to name a single open source program other than Linux, but you're current life is a life built on open source.
Saron Yitbarek: Most of us can't really go online without using open source tech. It's in almost every supercomputer on the planet. It's running the Internet of
[00:03:00] Things. It's in your phone, your web server, your social media, and oh yeah, it's running the Large Hadron Collider, too. And we developers aren't the only ones who've figured out the benefits of this stuff. Open source attitudes are now spreading beyond technology to influence other industries like economics, music, science, journalism.
What if an architect shared the blueprint for a building in the same way we share code? What if a reporter opened up her files and let anyone
[00:03:30] scrutinize not just her published article, but her research and interview notes? It shouldn't surprise us, the philosophy that developers have been nurturing for years. The idea that everyone gets to see and comment on the code, copy it, offer fixes, it's actually a pretty fundamental thing, right? It's sharing.
Ever since the earliest humans were sharing recipes for meals, we've known that openly sharing sets of instructions, algorithms in other words,
[00:04:00] has a net benefit for humanity. In some ways, open source technologies are now allowing us to get back to that basic truth.
Hannah Cushman: I think that more things being open source kind of facilitates and encourages people to go back and consult primary sources, which is always good.
Saron Yitbarek: That's Hannah Cushman, she's a developer at DataMade, where they've been trying to make our cities more open. Reams of open data from
[00:04:30] governments get compiled and made sensible so ordinary citizens can actually use it and take action. The tech they use is open source, but so is their attitude about politics.
Hannah Cushman: We did a project here in Chicago with a organization called City Bureau where we were working with them to get at lead test results for the public schools. So, the Chicago public schools went through and tested, if
[00:05:00] not all, a significant portion of the water fixtures in all of their school and published the results of those tests as a series of more than 500 PDFs.
Saron Yitbarek: So, that's great. But it's not exactly an effective way of making data open.
Hannah Cushman: It was really difficult to see where lead was found across the system and, like, higher numbers. We used another open source tool called Tablua,
[00:05:30] which you can run from your terminal, to extract data from over 500 PDFs and put it all together and help put this huge dump of information into a context that was useful for people.
I think being able to consult that source data is a really powerful way for people to kind of understand where information is coming from and verify that it is, in fact, correct.
Saron Yitbarek: Citizens can access the details of health reports, data on lobbyists, they get
[00:06:00] to look at the whole engine of city politics, and DataMade opens the hood. That means the people of Chicago have a better chance of bringing about the changes they want to see.
Carol Willing, a research software engineer over at Cal Poly, thinks that this expanding open source attitude is the start of something much larger.
Carol Willing: Personally, I think that we're gonna evolve beyond open source software to
[00:06:30] open hardware, to open government, to open education, open collaboration, innovation, so I think it's gonna continue to evolve.
Saron Yitbarek: Open source is starting to look more like a law of nature than just some outgrowth of the tech world.
Carol Willing: People have been charitable and giving of their time freely for thousands of years, so that's nothing new. But what is new about open source and has
[00:07:00] changed the world profoundly is the ability for groups to work together to build something bigger than what they could build on their own.
Saron Yitbarek: I love this idea! Taking some very new tech and using it to get back to some very old ideals. But before we get too excited, definitions can get wobbly as more and more folks start calling themselves open source. It starts
[00:07:30] meaning something that's just free, or something that's crowdsourced, or even just something that's customizable.
For example, if I let you choose what kind of sprinkles go on your ice cream, that's not necessarily an open source dessert. But if I show you how to make your own sprinkles, let you improve on my sprinkle recipe, and then give you my blessing if you wanted to share that secret with others, now that's
[00:08:00] some tasty open source right there.
So, what was that original definition again? It's pretty simple, but we should keep repeating it. To be truly open source, you need code, or a blueprint, or a recipe. In other words, some kind of raw data that anyone can study, change, and redistribute at will. It's a philosophy that's just starting to revolutionize the world beyond our command lines.
Thomas Cameron: It's a really phenomenal way to do technology, and I'm thrilled to death that
[00:08:30] is has been as successful as it has been and that I've gotten to be a part of it.
Saron Yitbarek: Thomas Cameron has been involved in open source since before the term was coined in 1998. Today, he's senior principal cloud evangelist at Red Hat. He's perfectly positioned to talk about how far open source has come,
[00:09:00] but also how many battles were fought along the way.
Thomas Cameron: Man there is huge pushback, you know, managers didn't want to take on the risk because, well, it's free; there's no one that I can pick up the phone and call for support; I have to depend on you. But we won a lot of these sort-of-easy fights, the departmental servers or divisional servers or a small web server, a small file and print server, and over time after winning these
[00:09:30] easier fights, the tougher ones came along. And with every single one of those, you saw sysadmins and systems engineers become more enamored of open source.
Saron Yitbarek: Despite these battles, you couldn't deny the ongoing progress.
Thomas Cameron: I have been able to watch open source transform the IT industry, and it’s gone from that rogue server that some sysadmin had under his desk to
[00:10:00] huge companies with household names—Intel, IBM, AMD, you know, every organization you can imagine has started contributing to open source projects. And it was absolutely a fight, there were so many arguments I had at various enterprise positions that I held where I said, "You know, we need to introduce Linux ® or other open source technologies into the datacenter."
Saron Yitbarek: Thomas sees that open source software development is taking over. But for
[00:10:30] some people, that's pretty unsettling.
Thomas Cameron: We're able to share information and analysis, and so that scares folks who historically have been the ones to hold information and derive value from it, whether it's charging money or just having control of an organization, it's a huge change and with that comes fear.
Saron Yitbarek: The open source rebels that we described at the start of the season have now become industry leaders. But that's not the end of the story, not by a
[00:11:00] long shot. Christopher Tozzi is the senior editor at Fixate IO. He sees open source disruption as the start of a fundamental shift in the way people everywhere, not just software, are going to work together.
Christopher Tozzi: I think that one of the things that has made open source so powerful over the last two decades is this continued interest in decentralization. I think this also speaks to how open source has influenced other technological
[00:11:30] innovations. Things like blockchain, which is also founded centrally on the ideas that databases, for example, or transactions could be more efficient or could be more secure if they're decentralized, if we get away from centralized modes of production. And again, open source I think today, ever since Torvalds came along, had been about decentralization of development in labor basically.
Saron Yitbarek: That decentralization across the board means the whole world's going open
[00:12:00] source. The developers who embody that philosophy, they're the ones who have the best shot at imagining that future.
Here's Tristram Oaten, he's a developer based in London, and he's definitely thinking about that long game.
Tristram Oaten: It looks like 3D printers are going to make our lives easier and hopefully more ecologically sound by producing parts at home. Whenever something breaks, you can just make it at home. It's the ideal Star Trek replicator
[00:12:30] future that we were promised so very long ago. Hopefully, that will come into play so that entire houses can perhaps be open source.
Saron Yitbarek: Tristram imagines a world where open source is the rule of the land and that means developers become, if not gurus, then at least guides. Really critical guides.
Tristram Oaten: In the future, our role as developers is going to become increasingly more
[00:13:00] and more important, and it's going to get increasingly more and more like wizards if it isn't already.
Saron Yitbarek: Okay, wizards. We'll be wizards.
Tristram Oaten: We speak strange languages that make these machines do wonderful things, and we're paid a lot of money to be the court wizard, or the company wizard. And when there are devices in everyone's bodies and when there are devices everywhere that are internet-accessible and can be remote-controlled, it's going to be very important that we as a group, as a guild, act
[00:13:30] in best faith, that the medical profession has a charter to do no harm and so forth.
I think that as developers, we need to collectively decide that we're not going to build the killer robots, we're not going to build spying software into everyone's router and everybody's hearing aides. We need to assure each other, and assure everyone, that we're going to work for the greater good,
[00:14:00] and not against humanity.
Saron Yitbarek: Let's all just promise right now that we won't build killer robots, okay? Okay. And beyond that, I do think Tristram's on to something. In some ways, we developers have seen the future and that means we've got a chance to help shape it.
What are the ethics of open source development going to look like in 10 years?
Tristram Oaten: We're in a supremely privileged position, and it's up to us to do the right
Saron Yitbarek: So, wizards, where are we heading? Can we conjure up a healthy future for open source? I wanted to talk with someone who's done some deep thinking about all of this, and I found her. Safia Abdalla is a software engineer who's been making open source contributions to the Interact Project. We started imagining what a real, sustainable, broad-reaching
[00:15:00] open source could look like. Have a listen. When you think about the future of open source and what that looks like, what are some differences we might see?
Safia Abdalla: Yeah, so I think one of the biggest emerging trends that I'm seeing is a lot of focus on open source sustainability, which is the discussion around how do you keep open source projects that are crucial to the entire tech ecosystem well-maintained and well-updated throughout their lifetime. And I think
[00:15:30] there's been a lot of interesting progress in that space.
Saron Yitbarek: Safia got me thinking, how much better could our work become? How much would change? If we could build that sustainable approach she's describing, if corporations were contributing time, code, and resources. So I asked her, how do you see that impacting that actual products we create
[00:16:00] and the tools that we build?
Safia Abdalla: The sad reality is that when you don't have the focus and time and energy and money to build something well for everyone, what you tend to do is just build it well for yourself.
Saron Yitbarek: Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely.
Safia Abdalla: And so you build a product that ostracizes a lot of individuals. So I believe that if we discover more sustainable model for open source, we're actually gonna start building software that's accessible to individuals who might be
[00:16:30] blind, or hard of hearing, or disabled in other ways.
Saron Yitbarek: Interesting, yeah I really like that. So, when you think about how the principles and processes and culture and community and all those things you mentioned of open source might be applied to industries outside of technology, outside of software development, what are some fields that you think could really benefit from open source, and where do you think open
[00:17:00] source might show up next?
Safia Abdalla: Oh that's a really interesting observation. The immediate answer that comes to me is an open source mindset in the science community and open science. I think the realization is that when you share software in an open fashion, what you're sharing is not the literal lines of code, well that is what you're sharing, but the other thing that you're sharing on top of that is
[00:17:30] knowledge and details about how to do something. So what you're really sharing is knowledge.
That translates really directly to the scientific world where researchers will spend a lot of time exploring a particular topic and then publish a research paper on it. And I think focusing on an open science initiative that makes sure that researchers are producing work that is accessible to all people, understandable by all people, and shareable and extendable by all people
[00:18:00] is gonna improve society's understanding of science and how far we can push research forward.
Saron Yitbarek: When I was in college, I did biochemistry research and I was very much used to this passion for experimenting, for researching, for trying new things, but at the same time still being very protective over your discoveries because you need to be a published author. You need credit, that is a huge, huge part of moving up in academia.
[00:18:30] So, when we're talking about bringing these open source principles of sharing and contributing and putting out unfinished products out there and hoping other people will fill it in, how do you see those principles possibly colliding in other industries where people might be more protective?
Safia Abdalla: Yeah, that's a great question, and I think that touches on a way hairier, bigger problem. For open source to be successful, the motivations and the
[00:19:00] incentives have to be, for the most part, extrinsic. You can't rely on systems that encourage people to focus on their own goals and motivations at the expense of others, and at the expense of the greater good of society.
I think at a fundamental level, we have to restructure the way we see a lot of
[00:19:30] things and the way a lot of systems work to have them focus on the collective good instead of the singular good. It's hard to do, it's hard to undo systems, like tenure, which have a lot of negative repercussions at universities. It's hard to undo other incentive systems that can harm the planet, can harm other people, can harm progress as a society. But starting to adopt an open source mindset and taking the initiative to begin to undo
[00:20:00] those systems will go a long way.
Saron Yitbarek: Absolutely, so if you could recreate open source in its entirety from scratch, you could build it all over again, what would your version of open source look like?
Safia Abdalla: Oh, boy. The first thing that I would change about open source is its public relations and its image. I would probably attempt to build an open source
[00:20:30] culture or community that didn't issue that perception that you had to be elite or a fantastic developer in order to thrive and succeed, and that was one of the biggest things that deterred me.
The other big thing I would focus on is open source sustainability, increasing corporate accountability and the health of open source systems. I think one of the things that a lot of people don't realize is that a lot of really popular
[00:21:00] technology companies and platforms that people use are mostly comprised of open source. Like, how many Rails web applications are super profitable and successful now. And I think it's important for us to ensure that those corporations have a stewardship to the open source community and recognize where their value is, and contribute it back.
Saron Yitbarek: Okay, so in Safia's open source—we'll call it S.O.S.—we have corporate
[00:21:30] accountability, and corporations contributing to the sustainability of open source. We have contributors and maintainers possibly being paid themselves for the work that they do, and generally a more loving and open brand for what open source is.
Safia Abdalla: Yeah.
Saron Yitbarek: Sounds like a great version of open source, I like it.
Safia Abdalla: Thank you.
Saron Yitbarek: Safia Abdalla is a software engineer and a contributor to the Interact
[00:22:00] Project. She's part of a new generation of developers. But even she's coming at it with the expectation of open source by default, so I wanna give a shout out to that new army of command line heroes. You all are going to show us the future. You're living it right now. You're going to lead the charge.
[00:22:30] Now as excited as I am for the open source revolution, I don't wanna be a Pollyanna either. There are going to be challenges. The bigger open source gets, the more we have to make sure that it's actually sustainable. Have we honestly figured out a scalable way of maintaining open source projects? I mean, the Linux kernels got some contributors who are full-time employees,
[00:23:00] but most of the open source projects out there are still maintained by volunteers.
The work of open source isn't over just because we've graduated from rebel status. Multi-billion dollar companies are running on Linux, open source pioneers are now tech leaders, we need to track this trajectory and try to imagine what comes next.
In particular, what could go wrong? Christopher Tozzi describes how open
[00:23:30] source, once the disruptor, is not vulnerable to disruption itself.
Christopher Tozzi: The open source revolution is not over, because it's not as if the challenges are going to stop coming. Even though today basically everybody on the planet who uses a computer is using open source in one way or another, that doesn't mean that open source is necessarily totally safe from disruption. Especially from the perspective of people who are committed to the original goals of the open source communities, which things like cloud
[00:24:00] computing really complicate in certain ways.
Saron Yitbarek: How open source will open source be? Christopher mentioned cloud computing and in Episode 6, we described how becoming reliant on somebody else's datacenter definitely complicates the original goals of open source.
It's tricky territory, and we're still learning the lay of the land. As we move forward, we're gonna have to remind ourselves about our roots.
[00:24:30] Every young rebel needs that Obi Wan hologram moment. Will they get a reminder from the past? Here's what our Linus Torvalds once said, "In real open source, you have the right to control your own destiny." If developers helped to encourage that spirit in the bigger world, that's a pretty good job.
[00:25:00] So, this is the final episode of Season 1. Can you believe it? This season just flew by. Before working on this podcast, things like DevOps, agile, and cloud, I didn't really think about where they came from, and who made them. I never thought they had homes with teams and talent who cared for them and helped them grow. They were just a bunch of tools in my toolbox. But that's not how I see them now. They're not just random tools, they're a
[00:25:30] part of the landscape I live in. A landscape the developers who came before me have been shaping for decades. Now, I get to help shape what comes next. That's amazing.
Season 1 may be coming to a close, but good news, we're already working on Season 2. Over these past 7 episodes, we focused on the open source
[00:26:00] tools and methodologies that brought us to where we are today. Sort of like the 30,000-foot view of how the open source world came to be. In Season 2, we're going to zoom in and focus on the epic struggles of today's command line heroes. We get to tag along each episode and see how developers on the ground are challenging the norm. These are the real life stories that shape the future of our industry.
[00:26:30] And while we hunt those stories down, we'd love to heard from you. Tell us, what's your command line story? What epic open source battles have you been waging? Go to redhat.com/command-line-heroes to drop your story. We're listening.
While you're there, you might want to check out the lineup for the 2018 Red Hat Summit happening in San Francisco May 8-10. Three days of breakout
[00:27:00] sessions, hands-on labs, and keynotes including one from yours truly all about open source. Hope to see you there.
Command Line Heroes is an original podcast from Red Hat. To get all of the episodes from Season 1 delivered to your device for free and to get notified for the start of Season 2, make sure to subscribe to the show. Just search for, "Command Line Heroes" in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play,
[00:27:30] Pocket Casts, Stitcher, CastBox, or however you get your podcasts. I'm Saron Yitbarek, thanks for listening, and keep on coding!
Featured in this episode
Developer, focused on open source software, community management, and data science
Business and technology journalist, focused on operating systems, networking, Linux®, and open source
Developer and composer, tinkering with source code and synthesizers in equal measure
Historian, researcher, and writer, most recently of "For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution"
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