Industry Trends

Private Companies + Open Source = Win

At ServInt, we talk openly about being — well — open. Sure, our sales and marketing teams primarily use the “Diet-Open Source” platform that is OS X and while we have had the very occasional Windows box turned-up in the past, our bread and butter is good old fashioned linux.  On the vast majority of our machines, we use CentOS, a terrific derivative of Red Hat Enterprise linux that has a very active community and is fairly common in the hosting biz.

We use and NeoOffice throughout the company, self hosted WordPress for this blog, TweetDeck and twhirl for our social networking outreach and there are several individuals in ServInt management, including fellow bloggers Reed and Christian, who still check their email in the command line.

I’m not kidding.

So I’m sure the point has been made, we’re an open company and we’re proud of it. That being said, there are several traits we have as a company that are unique to us. Our coders, led by our Vice President of Technology Matt Loschert, have injected an enormous amount code into our VPS product line that is designed to better secure and optimize them against the myriad of threats out there.

We are constantly investing time and energy into research and development, however, for competitive reasons we don’t necessarily announce every product we are working on.  If an idea doesn’t pan out, if a particular piece of technology doesn’t work, or if we accidentally open some portal to another dimension, we don’t necessarily want Arrington to blog about it.

In all seriousness, the reason I bring this up is partly out of a sense of responsibility to the open source community from which we have cultivated an enormous amount of expertise and success and partly to start a discussion around the role of private corporations and public, free/libre open source software (FLOSS).

We feel that a company can both embrace and utilize open source to make products that people are interested in purchasing and using as well as use those open source projects as a foundation to build unique, non open sourced products and services. We believe that we have a duty to be good citizens of the tech world and contribute changes to the underlying OS back to the community…after all we expect our customers to abide by our licenses so we have a duty and desire to comply with the GPL or whichever relevant license the software is operating under. In other words, give back to the community what we borrow from it, but develop unique software and services that make us competitive in-house.

Indeed, there are plenty of companies that are simultaneously stewards of FLOSS who also have proprietary (such an ugly word) technologies that are not open sourced. It was Sun’s proprietary software development that led to the eventual creation of, it was the utilization of Apple’s incredibly talented software engineering team that turned webkit into arguably the fastest browsing platform today, and IBM’s open source initiatives have resurrected Lotus Symphony and injected serious clout and research dollars into the Linux community.

On the other hand, Mozilla and Canonical have both been incredibly successful by remaining open in every sense of the word. They happen to be externally funded by massive code integration deals with Google (Mozilla) and super-wealthy South African benefactors (Canonical), but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less admirable.

What’s your take on corporate Stewardship and Open Source?  Let’s hear it in the comments.

Photo by David Pursehouse

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