The future of software lies in open source. Open source operating system Linux has grown exponentially to become the foundation for much of the global public cloud workload, smartphone operating systems, the world’s fastest supercomputers, and more.

By Johan Scheepers, senior manager solution architects: sub-Saharan Africa at Red Hat

Open source is also driving innovation in emerging technological fields such as artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality, quantum computing, IoT, and edge computing. And because no single organisation can solve the world’s greatest challenges alone, especially considering the pace and complexity of today’s technological advances, the open source model fosters collaboration across global communities to bring the best ideas forward from anyone – to the benefit of everyone.

Today, 90% of global IT leaders have embraced using enterprise open source software to solve problems and reach the forefront of innovation in an increasingly complex and connected world. This includes some of the largest governments, banks, institutions, scientific organisations, and enterprises. But not everyone has always believed that open source is a viable way of developing commercial software. These are some of the historical moments that I believe led to the era of open source innovation we are in today.


Looking back

One of the first examples of openly sharing technological innovation happened in 1911 when Henry Ford appealed the Selden Patent for a proprietary two-cylinder engine design. When Ford won the lawsuit, the free sharing of patents not only became widespread in the industry but also fundamentally changed the world in the early 20th century. We are still benefiting      from that collaboration, since open source technology is now standard in the automotive industry and continues to play a critical role in today’s generation of electric, hybrid, and smart cars.

Open collaboration then carried over to the 1950s when software development was still in its infancy. In 1953, a tool developed for electronic computers at the UNIVAC division for Remington Rand was released to customers with its source code. Customers were encouraged to report bugs and recommend improvements to the company. In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) became one of the first networks to implement the TCP/IP protocol and enabled a simpler exchange of software code – which also led to the birth of the internet.

At the same time, a general shift towards proprietary software began. Believing it would increase profitability, organisations began developing software in siloes to protect copyrights and issue licensing      fees. Innovation across the industry became more isolated and stagnant, but this was soon followed by the rise of the free software movement. The GNU Project was launched in 1983 and created a complete operating system with free licenses and an open use policy. In 1991, Linus Torvalds inadvertently changed the world when the GNU tools were combined with his Linux kernel to create the first fully open source operating system.


A giant leap for enterprise

Red Hat Linux released its first non-beta version in May 1995, with the aim to offer the innovation of the Linux operating system to more users. Large organisations also saw this as a solution to their innovation needs, but Linux needed more enterprise features to make it a viable option. Open source enterprise solutions were introduced to bridge this gap.

Many of our early customers, users, and contributors were financial institutions, such as Morgan Stanley, which migrated from Unix to Linux in 2001, and were soon followed by many more. As more organisations in the highly regulated – and arguably conservative – financial sector began migrating, the world began to realise that enterprise open source      solutions were safe, secure, and scalable.

Fast forward to 2021, and we have global FinTech leaders like NTT DATA using open source technology to modernise Japan’s financial services sector. Recently, they have implemented open source hybrid cloud and automation technologies to build a modern cloud service infrastructure, allowing teams to develop, deploy, and automate new applications for banking customers and greatly improve customer service. And they are not the only ones – Open Banking has become a paradigm shift in the industry, allowing both financial institutions and customers to benefit from a more collaborative ecosystem.


Moving to the cloud and beyond

The next big acceleration of open source technology happened with the biggest wave in computing since the internet: the cloud. Open source Linux provided a consistent foundation for early cloud platforms, and by 2017, 90% of the global cloud workload was run on Linux. Most containers being used today are also Linux containers, which has enabled containerised applications to be developed and moved across different cloud and on-premise environments.

Ten years ago, we declared the open hybrid cloud as our vision, and this has become a reality. Today, the open source approach gives organisations the much-needed flexibility to run applications       in a variety of environments, based on the requirements of each workload, while maintaining consistent security, policies, and development environments. The future of cloud is not only open, but also hybrid.


The open source way

Open source software has helped businesses across all industries develop and deploy innovative new services. It has broken down the siloes that inhibit innovation and allowed companies to share in their success. The open source way is also about more than just software – it’s a change in mindset. Through collaboration, meritocracy, transparency, and the support of a diverse community, open source developers are building a better world with better software. And while open source has doubtlessly shaped many aspects of the digital world we live in today, there will be even greater things yet to come.