The Unsung Heroes of Open Source

Will Schroeder | Kitware Blog | January 3, 2011

For many of us, the holiday season is a time to look back and savor meaningful experiences, and to look forward to the coming year. I also find it important to recognize the many people and organizations who enrich our lives. One group in particular stands out for me this year, those quiet participants who often go unrecognized, and yet make significant contributions to the open source world.

The people and organizations that I have in mind include government program managers and their associated institutions, research laboratories, technology advocates, academics, universities, scientists/engineers, and business leaders and their associated firms who make major bets on open source by putting their money on the line, staking personal reputations, and making the extra effort that benefit our communities. In the following I touch on just a few of the many contributors (I apologize for omissions); I have purposely left out people's names because I don't want to hurt feelings and this blog is not long enough to include everybody.

Here's a perfect example of our heroes in action: I am speaking of the many invisible firms who are *not* openly advocating the Way of the Source as an adopted business model, in fact they may be as entrenched in traditional capitalistic models as you can imagine. They are invisible for a variety of business reasons and typically ask that their name not be disclosed publicly. These include medical/dental device manufacturers, oil and gas companies, security firms, and engineering concerns.

What is amazing and gratifying to me is that these companies fund much open source work without asking for any direct recognition (BTW these projects have run into the millions of dollars so they are Big Deals). Yes, often they hold back proprietary code, and especially data, but a fair amount of good stuff ends up in VTK, ITK, ParaView, CMake or other open source systems. And this of course is done with the full support of these commercial entities because they understand the costs of long-term software maintenance, and know that the open source community can help mitigate these costs. But nonetheless, their contributions benefit many of us...