Webpack began as part of an academic project in 2012. Like so many other open source projects, it started out as a way to scratch an itch. “I was working on a web application for my master’s thesis in computer science and I was looking for a code optimization tool,” he explains in a recent episode of The ReadME Podcast. Unhappy with the way other tools handled code splitting, he wrote his own and released it on GitHub. “I had contributed to open source before, but I had never open sourced my own project before, so I thought it would be fun,” he says.(emphasis mine)
Less than three years later, former Instagram engineering manager Pete Hunt explained at OSCON 2014 that the company relied on webpack, putting Koppers in the strange position of maintaining an important, yet practically invisible part of one of the most popular apps in the world.
This is a brilliant blog post! It underpins the criticality of the open source software for major engineering companies (and start-ups) and mentions the issues around payments. Stallman and his lackeys have long promoted the idea of open source: “free as in free-beer”, but the real world complexity doesn’t address this satisfactorily. Their mailing lists is still full of obtuse and arcane dialogues around first world privileges and hair-splitting arguments around monetisation. Major internet companies have benefited immensely from the open source software, without paying back to the project maintainers or cutting them loose. The truth about the Internet is that any “novel idea” can be replicated and promoted at scale.
In some ways, that’s the cost of using free software. “Remember that open source maintainers are generally doing this work for a greater good, often with no compensation, and don’t have much control over how their software is being used or modified by other people.” says GitHub CSO Mike Hanley. “If you’re depending on third party and open source software, there is a responsibility to do some due diligence on what you’re incorporating into your project and how you’re using it. Consider sharing any improvements, interesting use cases, or bug fixes you find back with the project.(emphasis mine)
One of the reasons why enterprises don’t want to invest in open source is because it would be difficult to find project maintainers. I don’t think companies will invest resources to “patch bugs”. Most don’t. Unless there is a uptake of the open source project at a scale. For example, Libre-Office. It is a credible alternative to Microsoft Windows and it’s free. However, despite their efforts to create business around supporting enterprises (and making them pay), it hasn’t made “news”.
Healthcare enterprises need to be aware around these issues before they assess their actual “cost savings”.