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Open Source Software (OSS)

OSS Keywords: Freedom, flexibility, low cost, no vendor lock-in, no jumping through monopoly license hoops, enables bring your own device (byod), local software, hybrid cloud.

Software Is Eating The World, Enter Open Source, Enter Cloud, Enter Hybrid Cloud

Not everyone is happy with their place in the chain. Who wouldn’t prefer to be an apex predator or keystone species? In particular, some reject the tidy sequence above and insist open source is actually “eating” cloud. And Hybrid Cloud is also powered by Open Source, with the twist that smart customers also run self-hosted versions.

The argument is “open source eating cloud”. Admittedly, “eating” is not the most precise term, allowing different interpretations. Nevertheless, attempts to understand how exponents of open source doing the eating score this contest quickly get fuzzy and even metaphysical (“Sure, the clouds may take most of the revenue, but it is a moral victory for open source…”).

The public clouds are taking (dare we say “eating”?) open source software and operating that software as a service. One can say the public clouds are powered by open source (though they have plenty of proprietary software too), but that still seems like the clouds are the ones doing the consuming. From an economic perspective (which is what all the industry think pieces and analogies are about), the clouds seem to make a better business from open source than the companies built around particular projects. If you squint, open source could be seen as a very generous charitable donation to some of the largest and wealthiest corporations on the planet.

Our dining dichotomy stems from open source and clouds playing fundamentally different games. Open source enthusiasts and companies are focused on specific pieces of software and how that sausage gets made. The public clouds transcend software and operate on a vastly more expansive plane of existence where software is an important but not the sole ingredient of a service.

The public clouds knit together transoceanic cables, slabs of concrete, a reliable flow of electrons, millions of CPUs, exabytes of disk, software runtimes aplenty, legal standing and an army of people providing 24×7 operations and support, all integrated into a transactable utility accessible by anyone with a credit card. Software people often fail to appreciate that cloud services are so much more than just an instance of software, and operations is its own competency.

A big part of the value of cloud is independent of the underlying software: it lets customers get out of low value/high complexity operations (an attribute which applies equally to both open source and perniciously proprietary software). Open source software often skews to the complex, sometimes to the very complex (hello, Kubernetes!), making it all the more attractive to package and deliver as a service.

The unexpected and asymmetric competition from the clouds challenges open source companies, who must confront the fact the competitive advantage of knowing their software better than anyone else isn’t the insurmountable moat they had hoped. It is never fun to wake up and discover your product is now just a feature of a broader offering, but this is what is happening with software. Claiming open source is eating the cloud is like coffee bean farmers claiming they’re eating Starbucks: it willfully ignores the vast majority of what the customer is buying.

The argument for open source winning our eating contest boils down to, “at the end of the day”, victory is inevitable, because of the freedom and flexibility of OSS. Privacy, compliance and plain customer service will push OSS to the pole position, with the Hybrid Cloud Solution.

Enter Vendor Lock-In, Privacy, Compliance And The Hybrid Cloud Solution

Great hybrid, local-first software should have seven key properties.

  • It should be fast. We don’t want to make round-trips to a server to interact with the application. Operations can be handled by reading and writing to the local file system, with data synchronisation happening in the background.

  • It should work across multiple devices. Local-first apps keep their data in local storage on each device, but the data is also synchronised across all the devices on which a user works.

  • It should work without a network. This follows from reading and writing to the local file system, with data synchronisation happening in the background when a connection is available. That connection could be peer-to-peer across devices, and doesn’t have to be over the Internet.

  • It should support collaboration. “In local-first apps, our ideal is to support real-time collaboration that is on par with the best cloud apps today, or better. Achieving this goal is one of the biggest challenges in realizing local-first software, but we believe it is possible.“

  • It should support data access for all time. On one level you get this if you retain a copy of the original application (and an environment capable of executing it). Even better is if the local app using open / long lasting file formats. See e.g. the Library of Congress recommended archival formats.

  • It should be secure and private by default. “Local-first apps can use end-to-end encryption so that any servers that store a copy of your files only hold encrypted data they cannot read.”

  • It should give the user full ownership and control of their data. “…we mean ownership in the sense of user agency, autonomy, and control over data. You should be able to copy and modify data in any way, write down any thought, and no company should restrict what you are allowed to do.“


    Beyond Corp, Beyond Fortress Security (pdf)

    ACM Reference Format: Martin Kleppmann, Adam Wiggins, Peter van Hardenberg, and Mark McGranaghan. 2019. Local-First Software: You Own Your Data, in spite of the Cloud. In Proceedings of the 2019 ACM SIGPLAN In- ternational Symposium on New Ideas, New Paradigms, and Re ec- tions on Programming and Software (Onward! ’19), October 23–24, 2019, Athens, Greece. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 25 pages Paper Reference Local Software First, Kleppmann et al (pdf) Price Advantage
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