Linux Foundation: Why Open Source Needs Research Now
Recent years have seen a Cambrian-like explosion in new open source projects, which have in part been driven by pandemic-related concerns and the digital transformation of large organizations. At the Linux Foundation, we’re also witnessing a host of new industry verticals and sectors collaborating on shared technologies and standards that are not traditionally associated with open source, including those specific to public health, climate and agriculture.
The reality is that the maturity and the adoption of open source software has accelerated radically over the past decade due to the success of Linux and the availability of a wide variety of curated open source products that have helped transform and accelerate industries beyond IT.
Despite these advancements, open source software has been, on occasion, inaccurately pitted against closed solutions whereby “open” is interpreted to mean “less secure.” The public and private sectors have struggled to understand both the nature and the impact of open source software, which has not aided the decision-making process.
Given these perceptions, it was clear that the time had come to conduct new research into open source processes, projects, their scope and utility. Research is needed to dispel myths so there is a broader understanding of what open source is and what it isn’t, and create a knowledge base of the kinds of innovations that open source environments now support.
To achieve this goal, the Linux Foundation recently announced the creation of Linux Foundation Research, a new division to broaden the understanding of open source projects, ecosystem dynamics and impact.
Research as a Focus Area
The Linux Foundation has already been at the forefront of open source research in the past five years through its partnerships with academic researchers at Harvard University LISH and other institutions. Its previous studies on FOSS components and open source software supply chain security, led by the Core Infrastructure Initiative in 2015 and 2020, inspired the creation of the Open Source Security Foundation.
Additionally, since its initial release in 2019, the LF’s CHAOSS community has been working on metrics for analyzing the health of open source projects. Much of its technology has now been incorporated into LFX Insights, the new community portal that provides data analytics about the open source projects hosted at the Linux Foundation.
Data and Intelligence
The world has now become increasingly data-driven. The quantitative analysis of how open source projects work and how they are used enables us to gain insights into the data not surfaced in these communities previously.
While math and statistics are the foundation for research, more profound insights can be obtained through structured interviews when combined with the right questions. Interviews help fill in the gaps around discrete survey questions in ways that can be insightful, personal, entertaining and unexpected. Interviews can also provide context for understanding the detailed findings from surveys and confirm or adjust models based on underlying data.
In continuing its long-standing tradition of building open source communities, LF Research, as a newly established part of the foundation, will allow the open source organization to leverage its vast repository of data, tools and communities across industry verticals and technology horizontals, and derive decision-useful insights from them.
Research Methodology and Deliverables
The completed deliverables produced by LF Research’s methodologies will meet the needs of individuals with different learning styles and serve as a go-to resource to benefit the global open source community, academia and industry. The following deliverables will become available:
- Survey Announcements and Mailings: These will be in the form of targeted blog posts and emails written for the communities it wishes to engage with specific to a focused survey. Surveys will be promoted on the Linux Foundation’s web properties and social media accounts to provide the required visibility.
- Survey Instrument: LF Research uses SurveyMonkey for its quantitative research platform and tailors questionnaires specifically for each community survey. A typical survey questionnaire is 25-30 questions.
- Interviews: Depending on the nature of the research study, LF Research may conduct interviews with people at participating IT organizations or within the developer community to better understand an open source project’s user base and participants.
- Written Reports: LF Research will produce written reports based on the quantitative findings from the surveys and interviews it conducts, and then summarize the data it uncovers.
- Presentation Deck of Key Findings: LF Research will create a summary deck of all the quantitative findings for each survey it conducts on a question-by-question basis, including the use of presentation graphics to illustrate the results and provide high-level findings.
- Infographics of Key Findings: In partnership with Linux Foundation Creative Services, LF Research will create unique infographics to illustrate the key takeaways uncovered from the surveys it conducts and use data from LFX Insights about a given project ecosystem.
- Open Data Links: LF Research will provide open links to all of the response data for each survey in a fully anonymized format.
Current Research and Surveys Conducted by LF Research
- The SODA Foundation recently conducted a survey to identify the current challenges, gaps and trends for data and storage in the era of cloud native, edge, AI and 5G.
- Hyperledger also conducted a recent survey to measure the market awareness and perceptions of Hyperledger and its projects relative to other blockchain platforms used across industries, specifically identifying myths and misperceptions.
- The TODO Group, together with The New Stack, is conducting a survey as part of a research project on the prevalence and outcomes of open source programs among different organizations across the globe.
- FINOS, the fintech open source foundation, along with Scott Logic, WIPRO and GitHub, is conducting a survey as part of a research project on the state of open source adoption, contribution and readiness in the financial services industry.
- The SBOM readiness survey, in partnership with the Open Source Security Foundation, OpenChain, and SPDX, is the Linux Foundation’s first project addressing how to secure the software supply chain. The foundation of this project is a worldwide survey of IT professionals who understand their organization’s approach to software development, procurement, compliance or security. Organizations surveyed will include both software producers and consumers. An important driver for this survey is the recent Executive Order on Cybersecurity, which focuses on producing and consuming SBOMs (software bill of materials).
These are just a few of the industry, technology and ecosystem-level topics that will be published as part of this new division. As a result, the Linux Foundation is in the enviable position of having close relationships with IT luminaries, academics, hundreds of OSS projects and a significant portion of the IT community.
Linux Foundation Research has an excellent opportunity to develop world-class research products that help the IT community, industry and governments better understand the pivotal role of open source in shaping IT going forward and provide a knowledge hub to engage our communities.