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IT Briefcase Interview: Looking at Open Source Software 20 Years After The Term Was First Coined

March 23, 2018 No Comments

As the term “open source” enters its third decade, we talk to DreamHost’s Brett Dunst about the state of open source right now, how open source factors into DreamHost’s own 20-year history, and get an update on 2017.

  • 1. Open source – as a coined term, at least – just turned 20 years old in February. Does anything surprise you with regard to the overall evolution and adoption of open source over these past two decades?

A. We knew early on that open source, combined with the fast-growing internet, would be big.   You need look no further than places like Github to truly see how far open source software has come. There are millions of users contributing to millions more repositories of software projects that are just starting out, highly mature, and everywhere in-between.

  • 2. DreamHost recently celebrated a 20th birthday of its own. How was open source a part of DreamHost in the early days?

A. The DreamHost story started with open source. Our first web server was an off-the-shelf PC running Debian Linux. Powered by Apache, MySQL, and Perl, we latched onto the LAMP stack at the very beginning. Our first hosting packages were really bundles of mature open source software that served user needs. Mailing lists, webmail, crontabs, you name it.

Early hosting customers were truly riding a wave of something special – gaining access to remote servers to run powerful software that helped their sites, and their businesses, succeed!

  • 3. Open source detractors have often cited security, steeper learning curves, and software that is at the mercy of contributors’ involvement as ongoing challenges. Are these valid arguments, or largely overblown (or outdated) fears?

A. Open source software is not ideal for every use case for precisely the reasons you’ve cited, and should be considered as part of a larger overall strategy to software deployment. However, it’s been very clear for many years that mature, well-maintained open source software can easily go toe-to-toe with the proprietary, closed-source competition.

Every piece of software exists in varying states of development. Some may only have a single, passionate coder behind them. Some may have thousands of active contributors and a thriving support community who work to improve not just the software, but who serve to bolster its documentation and community presence as well. Both of these scenarios excite and inspire us, and we can’t imagine a world without them.

  • 4. Do you think there’s an industry problem right now with too many companies taking advantage of open source software without contributing to its development?

A. First and foremost, software is designed to solve problems. As long as open source licenses are respected, simply using open source software shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

Contributions are always welcomed, of course, but not every organization is able to do that. Some don’t have the knowledge in house, and some are simply too small to make contributions. That’s all fine!

We’re fortunate at DreamHost to be in a position where we can be active and contributing members to open source projects like WordPress and OpenStack.

  • 5. Any particularly interesting open source project/software that you are following and/or excited about right now?

A. WordPress, WordPress, and WordPress. WordPress now powers 30 percent of the world’s websites, and we are absolutely committed to delivering one of the best WordPress experiences on the web.

WordPress democratizes publishing, and that aligns very closely with DreamHost’s own noble cause, which is simply: “We help people own their digital presence.” We see WordPress as an ally in the battle against walled social media gardens whose restrictive user agreements often permit those platforms to repurpose user data or mine usage patterns for exploitable data.

We are a top-tier Managed WordPress provider and our users’ appetite for our DreamPress service is well justified. Out of the box WordPress is an easy-to-use, web-based content management system. Its strength comes from the maturity of its codebase, its incredibly supportive community, and its thriving ecosystem of themes and plugins that add even more functionality to the WordPress core experience.

  • 6. How does open source software manifest itself in what DreamHost offers today?

A. DreamHost will always favor open source software to commercial software. We’ve not ruled out the latter, but whenever there’s an opportunity to improve the level of service that we offer without incurring new customer costs, we’ll jump at the chance.

As I mentioned, our Managed WordPress offering is a cornerstone of our service offering. We’ve also created Ceph, an open source file system designed to handle petabytes of data across thousands of servers. Ceph is a popular storage system for OpenStack-based clouds. We’ve harnessed OpenStack at DreamHost as well, as it powers our public cloud computing service, DreamCompute, and our managed WordPress service, DreamPress.

Using and supporting open source software is in our DNA; in fact, “Embrace Open Source” is one of DreamHost’s eight core values.

  • 7. We have to ask: DreamHost made international headlines last year pushing back against a U.S. Department of Justice search warrant that wanted data from a presidential protest website. What’s the current status with that, and is DreamHost happy with how it played out?

A. We documented our entire dispute with the DOJ on our blog last year:

https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/we-fight-for-the-users/

https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/dreamhost-goes-washington/

https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/narrowing-the-scope/

https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/a-win-for-the-web/

https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/the-end-of-the-road/

In short, we’re very happy with the outcome. In the end, user privacy was preserved, and all online service providers that host user-generated content now benefit from the outcome of our efforts. I suppose you could even look at it as a type of open source policy making!

For DreamHost, protecting the privacy rights of users will always be a battle worth fighting.

Bio:

Brett Dunst is the VP of Corporate Communications at DreamHost, a provider of web hosting and Managed WordPress services.

 

OPEN SOURCE

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