How Open Source Thrives During Economic Slump?

  • Articles
  • September 6 2020
  • 6 min read
an open road with mountains in the distance

Gurpreet Kaur

The economic difficulties the world is facing in the post-covid-19 world can be attributed as severe as the Great Recession. There is no doubt that we will be able to recover in the coming years, but what of the present? More people have lost jobs than ever before and many employers are still continuing to downsize in order to become equipped to battle the slump. 

Amidst such economically turbulent times, would it be wishful thinking to consider that there is a segment in the market that is still continuing to grow? I do not think so. But, Open Source and everything it entails is flourishing despite the market’s downfall. And the best part is that it is not flourishing alone, it is doing so with its entire community.

You must be wondering, is Open Source recession-proof? It very well could be. Let us have a look at the aspects of Open Source that have given it the immunity to overcome an economic slump.

Driven by strong values

Blue background and columns of textual information on Drupal's values and principles to explain what makes open source softwares thrive during economic slumps
Drupal's values and principles | Source: Dries Buytaert's blog

Open Source software is always being moulded by its community of users. The strong values and principles set by an open source software for its members to uphold are instrumental. These help them make better decisions, let them be their best selves and leap forward as a unified community.

Talking about the values and principles, we have to look no further than Drupal - one of the leading open source CMSes in the global market. It has very strong values backing it and it is these values that make it as successful as it is, despite the economic downturns. I will mention a value that Drupal stands upon and you will understand my point.

Drupal believes in fostering a learning environment, wherein both the veteran contributors and the amateurs are treated with the same level of respect. Asking the right questions is the first step of learning, and if you are hesitant to do that, then learning can become difficult. At Drupal, no question is regarded as bizarre or frowned upon, whatever you ask will be answered with the utmost sincerity. The contributors, who have been with Drupal for years act as role models and pave the way for the novices to take their place one day.

When learning and self growth are the ultimate goal, the state of the economy does not hold much prominence. Consequently, the contributors grow and the open source grows with their contributions.

Less vulnerable on the financial front

Do you know which are the two most lucrative periods of growth for open source software? These are the years 2000 and 2008. And do you know what these two years remind us of? These were the years when The Dot Com Crash and The Great Recession happened. 

Now the question arises, how can open source experience its most growth in times when the world was battling two of the biggest financial crises? The answer lies in its economic costs.

Open source software is free for all, unlike proprietary software, which mandates exorbitant investment. Free means less financial burden on the companies using it. Since economic slump is all about saving as many pennies as you can, open source becomes just the way to do it. With constrained budgets and cost-effectiveness the only things running through people’s minds, the solution can only be found with open source. Perhaps that is why, when companies were falling down like the domino effect, Red Hat, a public open source company, increased its revenue by 11% every year in The Great Recession. This effectively proves that open source can thrive in economic downturns. 

The Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 is indeed doing the same for open source. After almost 20 years of growth and after battling two recessions it has only become stronger and more resilient.

Preference for widely adopted commodity tool

Save a huge amount of money by simply implementing an already established software like Drupal rather than building something from the ground up.

When times are difficult on the financial front, people and organizations try to make up for the difficulties by easing other dimensions of their operations. A great way of doing just that is by adopting open source software. 

An open source software has the potential of solving a couple of dilemmas for its users. Primarily, it will help the users save a ton of financial resources by simply implementing an already established software like Drupal rather than building something from the ground up. And it's not just money, making something from scratch is going to put a lot of strain on the human resources of an organisation as well.

On top of that, it also allows room for liberty. Using an open source software will not make you reliant on any one organisation like proprietary software would. If Microsoft goes out of business, your reliance on it will make things all the more difficult for you. However, the chances of open source software going bankrupt are slim to none, since it is not in business for money.

So, during an economic downturn, many companies opt for open source software because of the cost-effectiveness and security it is going to provide and the open source community flourishes.

The case for faster innovation

Let us start with an example. Have you ever been in a group study? And you must have studied alone as well? Can you think of a difference between the two? Which one clarifies your doubts more? Which one widens your learning parameters? The majority of you would answer with group study, and the reason is one simple fact, when there are more people, there are more ideas.

The same is applicable for open source software and proprietary software, wherein the open source is the equivalent of group study. There are hundreds and thousands of people from all over the world involved in open source software and its development, while the proprietary software development team cannot exceed the number of employees in its organization and even that’s a stretch.

What does this mean then? If you ask me, I would say that open source software and companies using it are faster at innovation because of their enormous number of contributors. Open source’s innovative powers are not limited to a single person or organization, they stretch onto the entire world population. Someone sitting in Italy can think of an additional feature and a coder sitting in his home in Australia can add a few improvements to the same. Is this not the best way to strive for innovation?

More open source contributions 

When developers get unemployed during economic slumps, they participate in open source as a way to develop or extend skill sets.

Economic downturn is bound to bring along massive unemployment. During the Covid-19 pandemic millions have lost their jobs. Losing a job does not have to be a bad omen, at least not every time. After all it is often said, when a door is closed, another one opens right up. Open source organisations are that other door. 

We all know that open source companies are immensely reliant on the contributions of its community. Majority of the upgrades and improvements are because there are contributors all over the world making them happen and that is how open source companies grow.

Now, coming to the economically difficult times and unemployment, when a coder or a designer loses his job, he has more time on his hands. So, what can he do with that time? Can he direct it towards finding ways to improve his skill set by working on open source platforms? He sure can. Along with honing his skills, a coder will also learn about new technologies, improving his chances of getting a new job and help open source in providing a better user experience. A win-win situation for both of them. It’s not just me who thinks that, the founder of Drupal, Dries Buytaert also believes that. In an interview with TechRepublic, he said that when developers get unemployed during economic slumps, they “participate in open source as a way to develop or extend skill sets.” Read how you can get involved with the Drupal project here.

Open source experiences an increased number in its contributors during economic downfalls. It happened in 2000, in 2008 and it has happened in the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic. To know more, check out the perks of contributing to open source projects.

Efficiently beats the pandemic 

It is true, Drupal had suffered a shortfall of almost half a million dollars during the COVID-19 crisis, the future seemed rather too bleak. However, Drupal’s community did not allow the bleakness to stretch on for long. Within a span of 30 days, the community, inclusive of organizations, both big and small, and individuals, was able to raise $500,000. From the Australian Government to the National Portal of India, Drupal users have shown consistent support for the Drupal Association and let it beat the pandemic. To know more, check out how Drupal is fighting against Covid-19 and the effects that the pandemic had on Drupal.

Other open source organisations like Confluent, Redis Labs and Cloudera have also been able to raise considerable amounts of money to support their operations in the COVID times. Instead of slowing down in an economic downturn, these organisations are thriving. So, it would be suffice to say that open source can survive the pandemic as well. Take a look at the power of open source in the time of Covid-19 to know more.

The Bottom Line 

The economic slump is indeed a battle for all of us, but I would say that open source is immune to it. The primary reason is the fact that open source is not in business for money, it is in business to help people and organisations grow and innovate by helping each other. The current market situation will only impact you when your business is reliant on its flourishments, however, open source does not need it to be in its pristine state. So, whether there is an economic downturn or not, it will continue to grow.

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