Tech giants Microsoft, Google and Amazon are committing more to open source projects than ever before, according to new research, which found that the number of open source contributions from Big Tech companies to leading code repository GitHub has multiplied four-fold in the past six years.
Open source cloud infrastructure company Aiven examined the number of GitHub contributions from the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft, finding Google alone had a 21% year-on-year rise in monthly commits, and overtaking Microsoft with the most contributors.
Using the Open Source Contributor Index and GitHub commits, they also found that Amazon, despite lagging behind Google and Microsoft, had also seen a surge in open source commits thanks to work on projects like OpenSearch.
Looking deeper at the type of projects the hyperscalers are working in, the team from Aiven found that while Google and Amazon work mostly in C++, Java and Python, Microsoft prefers its own languages of Powershell and C#.
Overall, the three tech giants significantly increased their commitment to open source by both the number of active contributors and the number of commits from each organisation. The monthly open source project commit from Google, Microsoft and Amazon grew 300% in six years, going from 2,654 contributors in May 2016 to 10,549 in May 2022.
The role of Big Tech in the open source community
Heikki Nousiainen, field CTO and co-founder at Aiven, says the Big Tech trio are contributing more resources and developer time to open source, which is something the community needs to ensure important projects are maintained.
“Google surpassing Microsoft is particularly surprising," Nousiainen says. "A factor in this has been a decline in Microsoft’s year-on-year commits to open source projects. However, Microsoft commitment to developer freedom and innovation is consistent, with the company being a major player in open source, and even purchasing GitHub in 2018."
The increase in projects is testament to the market increasingly looking to capitalise on open source software, he adds. "There’s a huge amount of innovation continuing to happen in the open source community and the results benefit us all," Nousiainen says.
Bola Rotibi, an analyst specialising in software development at CCS Insight, says major tech companies across the spectrum are committing to open source. “I would put it on all of the big software companies including IBM which has been a long-term contributor to open source," she says.
Rotibi believes there are clear benefits to the large software companies contributing to and boosting the open source movement. “You can create integration between key technologies through open source, and that adds to the level of stability in the market for software platforms," she explains.
Why is Big Tech investing in open source?
The Big Tech companies have the staff and skillsets required to make open source systems viable and allow them to scale, says Rotibi. This includes ensuring people are continuously monitoring for bugs and security flaws once they're published.
Platforms like GitHub also act as a neutral ground for the large companies to cooperate on shared ideas, standardisation and to drive technology forward, she says.
“You can create integration between key technologies and that adds to the level of stability in the market for software platforms," Rotibi explains. "It offers a level of standardisation, stability and resilience but also opens up to a broader audience allowing multiple minds to look at things and address vulnerabilities.”
She says hybrid cloud and cloud management solutions, requiring multiple services to work together, are more viable with open source as they involve a “lot of people working together to fix things and keep them working” in a way that would be much more expensive otherwise.
“Open source is a neutral no-man's land," Rotibi says. "People have always engaged with each other but now it is more because people expect companies to engage more and connect. The ecosystem is a much more powerful thing now and it is easier to build out the ecosystem.”
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