The role of Open Source and Foundations in Enterprises

I had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion that included several instrumental folks including Duncan Johnston-Watt, Sam Ramji & Monty Taylor on the role of the foundation. Without getting too far into the nitty gritty, there were some very interesting themes that came up…of which I will try to summarize here.


Many of the foundations are working with Open Source Software as a means to bring collaboration and organization to a collective of like-minded folks. In many ways, the role of the foundation is to bring organization to chaos.

During the conversation, a core conversation topic is the maturity model of engagement for customers. The model encompasses a number of different attributes. One of which is the relationship between individuals, foundations and commercial organizations.

Software Maturity Spectrum


One of the big misnomers with Open Source Software is that it is free. Open Source Software is not free. As one panelist equated: taking software without paying (or contributing back) is theft. At the opposite end of the spectrum is commercial software where a commercial agreement outlines the exchange of software for money. And, of course, there are a myriad of different attributes in between.

While this is only one way to slice the conversation, there are many ways in which one could look at how individuals engage with Open Source Software and how it, in turn, relates to foundations.


Each foundation follows a varied mission. However, there are three facets that often cover the core aspects of the foundation’s mission: Political, Economic and Technical. Many foundations will focus on the technical attributes without consideration of the economic nor political components. Unfortunately, only focusing on one facet leads to challenges that will manifest in a number of ways.

Not all foundations will, or need to, serve each of these dynamics. However, there is a reality setting in that the majority of foundations will need to address each of them in order. To ignore one or two (ie: political or economic) provides a significant, if not unsurmountable challenge.


In the end, foundations are complex. For the enterprise, it is important to understand the role of the foundation and how it aligns with your own vision and needs. It is important to find the appropriate ways to engage in a collaborative fashion.

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