How is open source software good for business?

In the late 1970s, staff programmers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sparked a movement. Little did they know that a jammed printer would lead to the beginning of an era: the free software movement. 

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “free as in freedom, not beer,” this is what it means:

“Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. 

The GNU Project and Free Software Foundation

The WordPress Foundation’s philosophy requires that all projects and software we support be licensed under the GNU Public License, a free, copyleft license—this is intentional. If you mistakenly think open source has no place in business purely because there’s no monetary value attached to the software, we urge you to think again.

The path to innovation and progress

Open source software offers a low-cost entry to the market and paves an efficient way for innovation. These projects harness the power of diverse knowledge, skills, and community to create the best software. But what does this mean for businesses? 

“Companies who wish to create wealth are always interested in productivity. Productivity includes being able to innovate effectively […] Effective innovation is not merely being able to invent and improve, but also being able to determine what to invent and how to improve,” said Richard P. Gabriel and Ron Goldman

Most individuals recognize Apple as an innovative and successful technology company. However, few people outside the developer community may know MacOS X was based on Darwin, an open source project. Many of Apple’s platforms draw inspiration from open source, and plenty of other companies have done the same.

With open source software, organizations have access to the latest updates and bug fixes, thanks to frequent and reliable releases. Put simply, building on that existing work rather than reinventing the wheel puts them on the fastest path to creating a better product for their customers. 

Moreover, business strategies based on open source can level the playing field. Small organizations that rely on open source projects for their products can leverage ubiquity to build brand equity, as Gabriel and Goldman explain. This makes the companies more trustworthy to the customer, allowing them to compete fairly with organizations with extensive resources. There’s also a low risk of the software being discontinued and affecting the business. Even if the original programmers leave the project, the maintenance and development of open source software will go on.

We’re only scratching the surface of how open source software is good for business. The reality is that the work done in open source projects benefits the society at large—they help create a better world through technology. The best way businesses can support that future is by adopting open source technologies and contributing to such projects. 

What is the WordPress Foundation and Why Does it Exist?

The WordPress Foundation is a non-profit organization with the mission to democratize publishing through open source, General Public License (GPL) software. Established in January 2010, the Foundation strives to ensure free access, in perpetuity, to the software projects we support.

The WordPress Foundation has a unique history. While it’s true that the organization is eponymously named, our work extends beyond the WordPress project. In this article, we’ll cover just that: what the WordPress Foundation stands for and why our mission matters.

The heart of the matter: open source

“If you believe (as I do) that software constitutes at once some of the core tools and core rules for the future of how human beings work together to create wealth, beauty, new ideas, and solutions to problems, then understanding how open source can change those processes is very important,” says Steven Weber in The Success of Open Source.

Imagine if you couldn’t use the various software that is fundamental to technology right now, be it WordPress, Linux, Android, or something else. Many of the tools we use may not be as commonly available without open source, as intellectual property rights could restrict that access.

But open source challenges the idea of property, as Weber explains in his book:

“The conventional notion of property is, of course, the right to exclude you from using something that belongs to me. Property in open source is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude. If that sentence feels awkward on first reading, that is a testimony to just how deeply embedded in our intuitions and institutions the exclusion view of property really is.”

At its core, open source is based on the power of community and collaboration. By bringing people together, these projects leverage the combined perspectives and knowledge to create something more remarkable—and available to everyone—than what we can achieve individually. 

The WordPress Foundation is here to ensure that open source software is part of the future. Human beings may have limited life spans, but our efforts don’t have to. Our organization wants to ensure that the source code for projects like WordPress will survive beyond the current contributor base, so we may create a stable web publishing platform for generations to come.