Open source is debt

An idea I'd like to throw in the wild.

Open source is software businesses use to shorten time to market and accelerate their product. Some businesses build and collaborate in public because it's a leverage strategy to get more from less. Most businesses maximize their use of open source software because they get it for "free".

Debt is the financial term, stolen for the sake of illustrating a concept.

Open source is debt because:

  • Open source software is not a sellable asset. It's both priceless and devoid of monetary value. What counts is the business value it enables.
  • The liability, and effort required to service this liability, grows as: 1) the software gains users, and 2) those users become more dependent the software. Support is a variable accelerant to the liability (e.g. it can grow the liability at an exponential rate).
  • Maintainers hold the debt liability. Their ongoing labor is required to service the debt. Typically, maintainers can only escape the obligation by declaring bankruptcy: "it's done" or "I'm done."

This idea could be helpful framing for:

  • Businesses to understand their dependency on open source in CFO-friendly terms.
  • Communities to understand the debt burden carried by maintainers, and general health of the project.

Another, possibly more correct, way of thinking about this is: "every line of source code, open or closed, is a liability." Businesses own 100% of their closed source liability. They like open source because they would rather own 0% the liability.

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