Open source is where a lot of the progress we have now came from, and in a way, it is a holdout for some early web culture that many people worry is going away.
Android, Linux, and the Firefox browser are great examples of software with a large number of programs whose code can be shared and improved without cost. What might not be as well known is that for a long time, the biggest tech companies, the ones that do the most business with software, have been the ones pushing it the hardest.
Both good and bad effects
On this throne of Open Source benefactors, there has just been a change in the order of things.
Up until this year, Microsoft was the company that gave the most money. Even so, the ranking does have a trick in that it separates the subsidiaries. Like GitHub from Microsoft or Red Hat from IBM. Microsoft would still be first if you added them all up.
It may be difficult to comprehend that Microsoft, which often went to court with people who supported Open Source software in the 1990s, has been in charge of this group for so long. But since Satya Nadella came to work at Microsoft, his view has changed a lot.
Google, on the other hand, has always been in favor of open source. Again, whether good or bad. It has made Android a standard, but it has also been criticized for, for example, closing Chromium’s APIs when it didn’t suit Google’s needs.
The Open Source Contributor Index (OCSI) says that Google had 5,421 active contributors in August, while Microsoft only had 5,268.
Google and Microsoft have always had more contributors than Red Hat, Intel, and IBM. This has been true this year and for the last five years.
Amazon, on the other hand, is one step behind with 1,963 contributions. But Amazon’s monthly growth is higher than that of some of the other companies on the list.
Language also makes a difference. Aiven’s team looked at the projects they work on and found that Google and Amazon mostly use C++, Java, and Python, while Microsoft uses its own languages, Powershell and C#.
By counting the commits on GitHub, the data can be found. In six years, the number of monthly contributors to open source projects from Google, Microsoft, and Amazon went from 2,654 in May 2016 to 10,549 in May 2022, which is a 300% increase.
How Big Tech Fits into Open Source
Heikki Nousiainen, field technology director and co-founder of Aiven, noted in the study that the large tech triumvirate is investing more in open source, which the community needs to continue key initiatives.
Large organizations often utilize security issues to privatize code.
“It is especially surprising that Google has passed Microsoft,” says Nousiainen. “Microsoft’s decreasing commitment to open source projects from year to year is a factor,” he said. “However, Microsoft’s commitment to developer freedom and innovation is constant, as the company is a major player in open source and even bought GitHub in 2018.”
But why is it so interesting? “Open source is a neutral no man’s land,” says the founder of Aiven. “People have always talked to each other, but now it’s more because people expect companies to talk more and connect. The ecosystem is a much more powerful thing now, and it’s easier to build.”
But, as we said, not everything is always so perfect. In March 2021, Google made it harder for the open source Chromium web browser, which Chrome and many other browsers are based on, to use many Chrome APIs.
Google explained its decision by saying, “Third-party Chromium-based browsers integrate features based on Google’s cloud that were only meant for Google Chrome users.”
In other words, “this meant that a small number of users were able to access their Google account and store their personal Chrome sync data, such as bookmarks, not only with Google Chrome but also with some Chromium-based third-party browsers.”
Because of what Google did, many people who worked on Chromium or other versions of it had to stop what they were doing.
It should be noted that almost 90% of all Internet browsers are based on Chromium. In this way, Google may not be using its dominance to sell products like Microsoft did in the 1990s, but it has shown that it still has the upper hand in some important decisions.