Most startup founders and software engineers would happily tell you that open-source software (OSS) far surpasses proprietary software.
They’re not wrong; OSS has plenty of benefits that programmers just can’t get from any other program types. Open source is the people’s software. It’s incredibly cheap to use, quick to implement, effective, and ridiculously customizable.
Unfortunately, with great power comes great confusion. Contributing to open-source software can be a little daunting if you’ve got no skin in the game. Even so, it’s important to bear in mind that the OSS community is composed of plenty of software developers that all started out where you are now — and they’re here to help you and your software project!
If you’re nervous to get the ball rolling on your OSS endeavor, use these lessons to give you the confidence you need to start making contributions.
No One Is Here To Judge You
Okay, so the internet isn’t perfect; not everyone’s here to play nice, either. Despite the one or two bad apples you might come across, the OSS community is a largely supportive one. Whatever you’re developing will likely pique the interest of a few programmers, and they’ll naturally want to check things out a little more. If you see alterations to your programming or receive any messages about how your programming could be improved, don’t take it to heart. Interaction of any kind only means that you’re heading in the right direction. After all, you’ve gotten someone’s attention, right?
Look into the suggestions and code changes and look for all the ways they make your product better. Remember, your business should provide value. Solving problems and optimizing your software is part of the deal. Listen out for what needs improvement and follow through.
Ask Yourself How You’ll Turn a Profit
OSS allows for wide distribution at a low cost, but you can’t forget to consider how you’ll make money. Although it’s easy to get swept away by the collaborative nature of open source, you are still a startup, and you’re going to need to get yourself in the green eventually.
In the past, “open source” really did mean free, leaving developers devoid of any opportunities for profit. OSS hasn’t lost its collaborative quality, but there are plenty of ways today to use it to make money. You just need to find one that works in-line with what kind of software you’re offering.
Are you looking to provide others with licensing to your software? If your program is highly interactive, consider offering extra services like paid technical support or training. Other businesses charge for use of additional features while keeping their base software free.
Make Your Software Coder-Friendly
When you’re writing notes for yourself, there’s no need to keep things tidy. What you put on paper could be chicken scratch but it doesn’t really matter, as long as you can understand it. When you’re sharing notes with peers, chicken scratch doesn’t cut it. Your handwriting has to be neat and legible so that everyone can follow along. Coding is no different.
Keep your code professional and as easily followable as possible. Easy coding makes it a lot easier for others to jump in and collaborate. The last thing you want is for someone to check out your source code only to be overwhelmed by shortcuts, incorrect formatting, and typos. Scaring other programmers away won’t help your product improve. Be sure to make lots of comments, and easily identifiable variables. Clean code also allows you to allocate more time on building your software and adding new features, instead of fixing up sub-optimal code.
Team Up With Open-Source Experts
OSS has many advantages, but it can be difficult to get right without the know-how. No one is too good for help — If you aren’t an OSS programmer extraordinaire, find a team of experienced software developers. There are open-source firms available to help guide your startup in creating unique software that meets your business needs.
If you’re running an independent startup and don’t have cash to throw around, hiring a third-party company to help develop your software might sound a little out of reach. You may have even considered bringing in in-house engineers but canned the idea after realizing they cost a fortune.
Contrary to your assumptions, the beauty of OSS programming is that the software and all its features are 80 percent cheaper than the cost of programming with commercially-licensed software or software created in-house. When you take on a team of OSS developers, you aren’t paying anything more than their service fee. Hire a firm that specializes in OSS. It’s a cost-effective way to launch more quickly and with fewer mistakes.
Take these tips and begin your open-source journey with confidence! If all else fails, take to the internet. There are plenty of open-source forums, where you can have knowledgeable experts answer your questions. Happy coding!
Eren Niazi, CTO of OpenSourceEvolution, is an open-source software pioneer that has driven significant innovation in the industry. He holds several U.S. patents, which specialize in disruptive technologies, including the first patent to ever be filed in AI technology. He also designed Facebook’s core systems during its hyper-growth phase and was instrumental in supporting Friendster, US Army, NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Shutterfly.