An open source foundation is a group of people and companies that has come together to jointly develop community open source software. Examples include the Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, and the Gnome Foundation.
There are many reasons why software development firms join and support a foundation. One common economic motivation is to save costs in the development of the software by spreading them over the participating parties. However, this is just the beginning. Beyond sharing costs, participating firms can increase their revenue through the provision and increased sale of complementary products. Also, by establishing a successful open source platform, software firms can compete more effectively across technology stacks and thereby increase their addressable market. Not to be neglected, community open source software is a common good, creating increased general welfare and hence goodwill for the involved companies.
1. Open Source Foundations
The Linux operating system and the Apache webserver are popular examples of open source projects that are in widespread industry use. They started out as volunteer projects without any commercial backing. When the industrial significance of these projects became apparent during the 1990s, interested software developers and firms decided to put the future of the software on more solid ground by creating nonprofit organizations.
Such an organization, commonly called a foundation, serves as the steward of the projects under its responsibility. It provides financial backing and legal certainty, making the survival of the software less dependent on the individuals who initially started it. There are many variants of foundations like trade associations and consortia. Each of them has its own matching legal structure, depending on the specific goals of the founders. This article uses the term foundation to denote all of them.
The foundation represents the community of developers, which is also why the software is called community open source.
Community open source is different from single-vendor open source, which is open source software that is being developed by a single firm. Firms behind single-vendor commercial open source expect direct revenue from selling the software and services for it . This is typically not the case with communally owned open source, as competition is likely to keep revenues down.
However, there are several economic reasons why software firms join and support foundations to develop community open source: Some members expect cost savings for products built on the community open source software, others expect increased revenue and sales from complementary products, and yet others want to grow their addressable market. Continue reading.
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