Growing Pains: Overcoming Challenges in the Outlook for Open Source

The use of open source software is steadily increasing as companies aim to maximize their technology budgets, even if their bosses are not fully aware of it. According to a survey by Perforce Software, 95% of respondents reported that their organizations have either increased or maintained their use of open source software in the past year. Of those, 33% stated that their usage had significantly increased. The small percentage (5%) that reduced their usage mainly consisted of early stage startups, while 39% of large enterprises reported an increase.

Interestingly, not everyone within these organizations may be aware that they are utilizing open source software. Senior executives were more likely to believe that their organization’s usage had remained the same, compared to those in more hands-on technology roles. This suggests a potential disconnect for leaders who may not be fully aware of the extent of open source adoption within their organizations.

The survey included over 2,000 respondents, with job titles ranging from systems administrators and developers to managers and C-suite positions. The top reason cited for using open source software was the absence of license costs, allowing for cost reduction. Following that was the flexibility of open source options to expedite development, access to stable technologies, innovation, and the potential to avoid supplier lock-in. In last year’s report, cost reduction ranked ninth, indicating that a more challenging economic landscape and tighter budgets may have influenced technology choices. Among those working in government or public services, over half (51.5%) cited cost reduction as the primary reason for using open source, the highest percentage across all industries.

However, while most organizations are willing to utilize open source software, fewer are contributing their own time and effort to open source projects. Less than a third of respondents stated that their organization actively contributes to open source projects or develops new software in public Git repositories. This is a decrease compared to the previous year’s report and is a concern for some open source supporters.

In terms of specific technologies, databases and data technologies have overtaken software development lifecycle tools and containers as the top choices for building projects. This shift aligns with the current exponential growth in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL), as these models rely on massive amounts of data. Cloud and container technologies are still being invested in by many organizations, particularly large enterprises that are embracing containers as their preferred architectural model. Small to medium-sized firms are prioritizing data technologies more heavily, while software development lifecycle tools have seen a decline in popularity, potentially due to a lack of recent innovation in that sector.

Embracing open source usage does come with its challenges. Maintaining security policies or compliance was deemed at least “somewhat challenging” by 79% of respondents, with 44% finding it challenging or very challenging. Nearly half (42%) found it challenging to maintain end-of-life versions of open source software, and 70% had difficulties keeping up with updates and patches.

When it comes to open source software usage, Ubuntu is the most common Linux distribution, followed by Debian and CentOS. However, CentOS is approaching its end of life, slated for later this year, which could pose a challenge for organizations still using it. Open source enthusiasts argue that beyond cost savings, open source could be a significant driver of the tech economy. OpenUK, an industry group, states that open source contributed 27% of the UK tech sector’s gross value added in 2022. The potential impact of open source in government and its ability to democratize technology and drive innovation have not gone unnoticed.

In terms of web infrastructure, NGINX has surpassed Apache HTTP as the more popular choice. Apache Tomcat ranked third. Python has overtaken JavaScript as the most used programming language, with larger organizations favoring Python, small to medium-sized organizations having an even split, and early stage startups leaning towards JavaScript and Node.js.

Overall, the use of open source software continues to grow, driven by its cost-saving benefits, flexibility, and access to stable technologies. However, there are challenges in terms of security, compliance, and software maintenance. Despite these challenges, open source software remains a crucial component of the tech industry and the digital economy as a whole.

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