Cloud convenience and open source Otesanya David March 25, 2022

Cloud convenience and open source

Cloud convenience and open source


In 2016 I wrote that “cloud convenience is killing the open source database.” It didn’t. Instead, as I noted more recently, open source has remained relevant even as cloud companies seek to make it easier to manage. That said, there’s reason to believe that open source matters in a very different way than some of its most ardent defenders believe.

Convenience isn’t the only thing that developers care about, as RedMonk’s Stephen O’Grady has stressed, but “for developers, convenience trumps most other technology characteristics.” Yes, open source is included in “most other technology characteristics.”

Losing the convenience war

Don’t get me wrong: All things being equal, developers will prefer open over closed. But in the cloud era, the place software falls on the open source purity spectrum isn’t developers’ biggest concern. If we’re going to be brutally honest, it’s always been that way. There’s a reason Microsoft Office has hundreds of millions of users; why Oracle has topped the database charts for decades (though this is changing). Open source has been a huge movement in software that dramatically changed how we think about software.

But it’s not the only thing.

This thought jumped out at me while listening to MongoDB’s fourth-quarter earnings call. (Disclosure: I work for MongoDB.) At the tail end of the call, one analyst asked about users of Community (a free and open version of MongoDB) turning into paying customers of Atlas (a fully managed cloud service). The company’s CFO/COO, Michael Gordon, said something that struck me: “Atlas self-serve, whether it’s free tiered or paid, it’s sort of the modern, more contemporary version of downloading Community Server and managing it yourself.”

Put another way, developers are turning to free-to-use managed cloud services in much the same way that they once downloaded free-to-use open source software. But it’s critical to point out that now, as then, the focus for most of these developers isn’t freedom—not in the sense that many free and open source (FOSS) advocates imagine. Developers are not focused on software freedom (and never really have been). They just want the convenience of using the software without having to get approval from Finance, Legal, etc. They have work to do and are trying to get it done with as few roadblocks as possible.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.


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