A decade ago, many of those working in the technology industry wouldn’t have heard of open source technology. However, fast forward to today and many tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon are embracing the technology and seeing the rewards. In fact, even Apple is joining the open source bandwagon as one of the newest members of The Cloud Native Computing Foundation – home of open source projects like Kubernetes. So, what exactly is open source? Where did it begin? And why are so many businesses joining this movement?

Open source origins

To understand how open source works, it is important to appreciate where it all began. The very idea behind its inception isn’t exactly a new one. It’s been adopted by scientists for decades. Let’s imagine a scientist working on a project to develop a cure for an illness. If this scientist only published the results and kept the methods a secret, this would undoubtedly inhibit scientific discovery and further research in this area. On the other hand, teaming up with other researchers and making results and methodologies visible allows for greater and faster innovation.

This is the premise from which open source was originally born. Open source refers to software that has an open source code so it can be viewed, modified for a particular need, and importantly, shared (under license). One of the first well known open source initiatives was developed in 1998 by Netscape, which released its Navigator browser as free software and demonstrated the benefits of taking an open source approach. Since then, there have been a number of pivotal moments in open source history that have shaped the technology industry as we know it today. Nowadays, some of the latest technology you use on a daily basis, like your smartphone or laptop, will have been built using open source software.

Reaping the business benefits

So, with the technology hitting the mainstream, why are so many technology companies adopting an open source approach? The benefits offered by open source are plentiful. Obvious advantages include a faster speed of development, greater transparency, and more robust code compared to internal teams working alone. In addition, having access to numerous open source apps allows organizations to pick and choose the best for their business needs, whilst simplifying the transition between individual services.

On a wider level, open source enables collaboration within and between passionate developer communities, and this is fundamental for the development of technology in the future. Using the power of the crowd not only enables new concepts to be developed and introduced more frequently but also quickens troubleshooting should any issues arise.

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Delegates and exhibitors network and visit stands at the AI Expo Africa at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, Sept. 10, 2018. RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images

A shared responsibility for security

This ability to react quickly to potential problems with software has a growing importance in today’s world given cyber-attacks and data breaches are on the rise. Ensuring IT projects are secure and robust is a prominent concern for all businesses. Leaning on the expertise of the developer community, like those dedicated to the ongoing development of Kubernetes, can play a significant role in securing a piece of software. For example, open source guarantees that any issues or errors are identifiable and, more importantly, fixable. In comparison, vulnerabilities in closed-source software are often difficult and take longer to identify.

Open source and beyond

Recent research found that 60 percent of organizations are already using open source software. Many businesses are realizing the benefits that the technology can bring in relation to driving innovation and reducing costs. This in turn is seeing a growing number of organizations integrate open source into their IT operations or even building entire businesses around it. With emerging technologies such as cloud, AI and machine learning only driving this adoption further, open source will continue to play a central and growing role throughout the technology landscape.

(Stephan Fabel is the director of Product at Canonical, the publisher of Ubuntu operating system)