GForge and Open Source Software

Old School OSS

I can recall the low beam of light from a CRT monitor that was hooked up to a 333MHz Intel Pentium II computer that provided just the right amount of hum from its tower to compliment the loud clicks I was orchestrating from my cheap IBM keyboard. I was sitting on an equally cheap, metal folding chair positioned perfectly in front of a card table that hosted the monitor. That was the scene as I made my first open source contribution, using Slackware 3.x.

Today, I can replay all the different ways open source software shaped my professional career and the vision and value systems we hold here as we reinvent and reintroduce GForge.  Admittedly, many familiar with GForge know it more from its roots at SourceForge.net and its impact on open source software back in the 1990s. A lot has changed and open source software has continued to thrive beyond its original, organic roots to claim a rightful place in organizations of all sizes.

Today’s OSS

There is no industry immune from the influence of open source software. Cloud computing, DevOps, fintech, medicine, banking and governments at all levels are deploying some level of open source software but what gets lost in the fray is their true relationship with open source software.  There could be more, but I see three distinct relationships an organization can have with open source software.

  • Consumers – These organizations simply consume open source software. This could be viewed negatively but having led an open source project I can attest that there is a tremendous amount of pride seeing people use software you helped build.
  • Contributors – While they also consume, these organizations also make contributions back to open source projects in the form of bug reports and possibly small patches. Finding bugs is hard work that open source projects appreciate and nothing feels better when someone using code you helped build finds and submits the fix.
  • Collaborators – The organizations I respect most not only contribute but they actively collaborate on open source software. These are the organizations that understand that OSS is more than just source code, they are communities with vision that sustain real, long-standing relationships that cross industries, geography, religion, politics and socio-economics. I can’t begin to enumerate the number of great people that have influenced me professionally and personally as a result of open source collaboration.

GForge and OSS

Ok, I can hear you asking “Where is this going and why write all this when GForge is a commercial offering?”  As an organization GForge sits in that “Contributors” relationship with open source. While that’s not bad, we do have aspirations to improve our relationship and we have chosen to apply the principles we’ve learned from open source in how we engage in business. Specifically:

  • You get our source code – While GForge is a commercial product we ship the source code for our entire codebase minus the bits that do the license key checking. Also, GForge is free for up to 5 users and is free to open source organizations.
  • We value transparency – Providing our source code can be viewed as a risk but for our customers it allows them to do a deeper inspection of our features, code quality and they can perform their own, independent security audits.
  • Security vulnerabilities are good – Sadly, my name is associated with some pretty nasty vulnerabilities and there are only four appropriate things to do when that happens: 1) swallow your pride 2) thank and give the reporter official credit 3) find, fix and announce the vulnerability quickly 4) learn from the mistake.
  • Better customer relationships – We make it possible for customers to access our codebase via Git. This not only makes customizations possible it makes those changes maintainable over time while still take advantage of our new features and bug fixes.
  • Avoid vendor lock-in – We are a vendor so you probably think vendor lock-in is good, right? I’ve been on both sides of this table and by providing our source code, by using an open source database (PostreSQL) and providing a slick REST-ful API we are conveying to our customers and prospects that we know they have choices and our open approach is the foundation for the relationships we build with our customers.

GForge Going Forward

Last month we reintroduced GForge with our first release of what we dubbed “GForge Next”. Our goal was to make GForge Comprehensive, Simple and Elegant by paying down over a decade of technical debt that positions us to focus innovation.  GForge has a long history with open source software that we plan to expand on and if the above values resonate with you, we invite you to explore what we’ve learned in 20 years of helping teams Build Better Software.

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