Can FOSS eat the world?

Yesterday I got the first (paid!) request to add a feature on Hub20 from someone who is working on what is likely to become the first Hub20 production instance.

It’s a simple feature, driven by his need to have some functionality that is not provided yet. He could’ve looked at current state of the work and said “oh, it sucks because it doesn’t do X”. He could’ve used that (temporary) failure to address his need, and justify going to some “established” business. Or he could’ve just taken the code and tried to “compete” - it’s open source after all.

Instead, he decided to look at things that Hub20 does do, and chose to support it to make it better.

Even if there were a closed proprietary service that could do what he needed (I have looked, and I haven’t found it yet), his contribution will ensure that his business is not so dependent on someone else’s. And if tried to compete with Hub20, he would quickly realize the time alone get his development environment in order was better spent working on his own business.

Most interesting of all is that his contribution (while valuable) would never buy the amount of “resources” if he were trying to do this in-house. If I were to charge regular consulting rates to have this done only for his business, it would have cost him 3-5x more to have something that would end up probably being of worse quality and that would have no chance to be further improved without having to spend again.

Could it be that bigger companies will learn this lesson and start operating on this model as well? For all the talk about how hard it is to find good/talented people in the market, why not reduce the size and scope of your development team to your absolute core functions, and “outsource” anything possible to open source projects?

Some companies are already proving this is possible. The question is what is stopping more of them from doing so. Does it look bad from an accounting perspective, so the bean-counters twist their noses at the idea? Is it too much of a cultural shift, and if so shouldn’t we take advantage of the fact that we are already in the middle of a massive cultural shift and push this one along? Is it a matter of corporate politics? Would a Team Lead/Manager/VP be shooting their careers down by advocating their team to be smaller and to “give money away”?