The other day, AWS announced its latest plans to work around the license of ElasticSearch, a very useful open source project cared for by Elastic.
“At AWS, we believe that maintainers of an open source project have a responsibility to ensure that the primary open source distribution… does not advantage any one company over another. “
Can I call BS on this?
I mean, I’m sure AWS does believe that, because it’s in their interest. But not because it’s true.
Great pieces of software are not made of code alone. They’re made of code, which is alive in the mental models of people, who deeply understand this software and its place in the wider world. These people can change the software, keep it working, keep it safe, keep it relevant, and grow it as the growing world needs.
These people aren’t part-time, volunteer hobbyists. They’re dedicated to this project, not to a megacorporation. And they eat, and they have healthcare.
Reusable software is not made of code alone. It includes careful APIs, with documentation, and of communication lines. The wider world has to hear about the software, understand its purpose, and then contribute feedback about problems and needs. These essential lines of communication are known as marketing, developer relations, sales, and customer service.
Useful software comes out of a healthy sociotechnical system. It comes out of a company.
If a scrappy, dedicated company like Elastic has a license that leans customers toward paying for the services that keep ElasticSearch growing, secure, and relevant — great! This benefits everyone.
Poor AWS, complaining that it doesn’t have quite enough advantages over smaller, specialized software companies.
Then the next sentence: “This was part of the promise the maintainer made when they gained developers’ trust to adopt the software.” Leaving aside the BS that a person who gives away software owes anyone anything —
The best thing a maintainer can do for the future of all the adopters is to keep the software healthy. That means watching over the sociotechnical system, and that means building a company around it. A giant company fighting against that is not on the side of open source.