2018 saw its fair share of developments for the world of open source software and it’s looking like that trend will continue into 2019. This week, for example, saw two big open source stories that may not directly relate to each other, but have in common one central theme — money and the effect that the deep pockets of enterprises like Microsoft and Amazon can have on the good intentions of things like open source.
First up, we saw the announcement about how a new year was bringing a new GitHub with unlimited free private repositories, a rather welcome development for GitHub users, to be sure.
“For the first time, developers can use GitHub for their private projects with up to three collaborators per repository for free,” the company wrote in its announcement. “Many developers want to use private repos to apply for a job, work on a side project, or try something out in private before releasing it publicly. Starting today, those scenarios, and many more, are possible on GitHub at no cost.”
Of course, this comes some months after Microsoft’s acquisition of the popular web-based GitHub versioning tool, and its competitors were quick to note that they were here, offering private repositories, long before GitHub found itself flush with cash and no longer relying on membership fees of small users. Bitbucket offered the headline “GitHub joins Bitbucket in offering free private repos” noting that the announcement is “great news for their users and developers in general” and saying that it is “about time,” and of course mentioning that their own offering is for up to five users. GitLab took a similar approach, remarking that “increased competition from us (GitLab) contributed to this change” and offering a comparison of “our current GitLab free private repository offering vs GitHub’s.” Suffice to say, GitLab shows itself as offering more in terms of free private repositories, including unlimited collaborators and 10GB to GitHub’s 1GB.
Yer it’s terrible that Microsoft has bought Github ain’t it. And now, they make it free! I don’t know how you can sleep at night!!
— Matt Smith (@matt40k) January 7, 2019
Coverage of the announcement has been largely positive, with TechCrunch calling the move “a sign of goodwill on behalf of Microsoft” and ProgrammableWeb writing that “today’s news has to be seen as a good sign.” Of course, Techcrunch also remarks on the one point that I can’t help but focus on – “GitHub’s model for monetizing the service is a bit different from Microsoft’s. Microsoft doesn’t need to try to get money from small teams — that’s not where the bulk of its revenue comes from. Instead, the company is mostly interested in getting large enterprises to use the service.” Where you might see good will, I see mostly a company now backed by deep pockets that can make the competitive moves it simply wasn’t able to before. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive.
A Buffer plugin for GitHub that would schedule your commits for certain times of the day so it looks like you're still online and working.
— I Am Devloper (@iamdevloper) January 7, 2019
That’s just half of the story this week, however.
The other big open source news came as a continuation of a topic we wrote about just last month, which addresses the idea of open source business models and attempts by smaller companies, such as MongoDB, to protect themselves by writing new licenses that further restrict the use of the open source software upon which they are based. Well, that topic came to a head this week as Amazon unveiled its new database offering, DocumentDB, which is directly compatible with the Apache 2.0 open source MongoDB 3.6 API.
Now, this particular debate is one that is quite contentious in the open source community and one we don’t have the full time to dive into today, but there are a few articles that do it justice and will serve quite nicely to keep you up to date.
First off, we have an article by “armchair economist, free software agitprop and all-around rabble-rouser” John Mark Walker, entitled “Open Source Business Models Considered Harmful,” that argues that “there are a variety of ways to capitalize on open source software in a commercial setting, but there is no separate open source business model, and to pursue such is to possibly limit your future success.” Written just days before the Amazon announcement, it focuses on these recent developments and even takes Mongo to task for “attempting to capture users of its software by mandating that anyone creating Mongo-as-a-Service must release all code under the “Server Side Public License” (SSPL).”
Next up, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois writes that AWS gives open source the middle finger with its “hosted drop-in replacement for MongoDB that doesn’t use any MongoDB code.” According to the piece, which takes a decidedly anti-AWS slant, “it’s also no secret that AWS has long been accused of taking the best open-source projects and re-using and re-branding them without always giving back to those communities. The wrinkle here is that MongoDB was one of the first companies that aimed to put a stop to this by re-licensing its open-source tools under a new license that explicitly stated that companies that wanted to do this had to buy a commercial license.” Read on for “feisty” comments on the situation from MongoDB that point out how MongoDB 3.6 is old and missing many new features and how “developers are technically savvy enough to distinguish between the real thing and a poor imitation.” One commenter, among others, offers a disagreement, saying that “startups choose MongoDB with great reservations, because while the APIs are great if they’re ultimately successful, they’ll have to do a painful migration before the scalability problems hit.”
Finally, Matt Asay, once-upon-a-time vice president of community at MongoDB, takes up the issue from the opposite direction, noting that MongoDB may not be the open source underdog they portray themselves to be — and in fact not really open source at all, anymore.
Someone asked me today if MongoDB is still open source. I thought he was joking but since October 16, 2018, MongoDB is no longer open source. It's SSPL-licensed, which is not an OSI-approved license. It's open-ish, but not open source. This genuinely makes me sad
— Matt Asay (@mjasay) January 8, 2019
One quote from Asay to wrap this whole thing up before we look at the few other developments that have happened in the world of programming this week: “AWS is simply better at operationalizing code that many of the commercial developers of open source projects. Those companies want an exclusive right to monetize open source (which, ironically, is not very open), but their customers just want to be able to run the open source code at scale to solve real business problems, spending less time futzing with patches, upgrades, etc.”
Worth keeping in mind. MongoDB is currently a proprietary database company threatening its community for daring to use its API. Smells like Oracle, no? https://t.co/fzveJyTC59
— Matt Asay (@mjasay) January 10, 2019
And thusly begins 2019.
This Week in Programming
- Python Takes TIOBE for 2018: As we continue to wrap up 2018, a story from JAXEnter on how TIOBE crowns Python as the programming language of 2018. “For nearly two decades, the main programming languages have remained remarkably consistent: C, C++, and Java,” they write. “Now, Python is edging in to those three front-runners. It’s no surprise why: Python is commonly taught at universities; it’s essential for AI and machine learning; and it’s basically all you need for scripting or writing system tests.”
- The Fruits of Acquisition: Meanwhile, the Microsoft / GitHub acquisition continues to bear fruit (although, these changes may very well have been in progress before any acquisition was truly in progress) as the integration between Visual Studio Code and GitHub continues to gain new features. This week, GitHub announces that the GitHub Pull Requests extension now allows users to “create pull requests, leave suggested edits as a comment, and view status checks for each pull request.” Click through for details and a walk-through of the new features.
- Square’s In-App Payments SDK: ProgrammableWeb brings us news of Square’s new in-app payments SDK, which “provides developers with all the tools necessary to accept payments in their applications via Square” and is available for iOS, Android, and Flutter. According to the article, “the new SDK provides a customizable payments flow, allowing developers and sellers to either quickly enable payments with Square’s default flow, or customize the experience to match the rest of their application. The platform allows users to make payments via their credit or debit cards, in addition to enabling payments with Apple Pay and Google Pay.”
Feature image: “Market Scene in an Imaginary Oriental Port,” Jean-Baptiste Pillement, French, about 1764, Getty Museum, public domain.