Open-sourcing can be a win-win situation. When companies open-source their tools, we (the users) benefit by gaining access to high-quality software for free while companies get access to:
Their internal QA team now has the support of hundreds, if not thousands of external developers using their tool, reporting bugs on GitHub and sometimes even fixing them themselves.
Empowered developers start building ports, wrappers and tools on top of what was initially open-sourced. The initial tool is increasingly extended.
A developer using their free tools is more likely to pay for a premium tier. This is the case of Angular and Firebase, or GitHub and Azure.
By keeping ownership of a widely used tool, they have the power to decide which features get prioritized and the roadmap to follow, according to (or despite) the opinion of the community.
In the backend landscape, very common tools and frameworks are known to be owned by companies:
The current DevOps landscape is not much different either. When it comes to containers, Docker and Kubernetes follow a similar trend: they are popular open-source projects backed by companies.
On the Content Management System (CMS) ecosystem, many tools are actually owned by companies even though this is not always visible at first sight.
Community-owned software is not necessarily better than company-owned. The widely used open-source project core.js (by Denis Pushkarev) took an unexpected turn when users found a message on their build logs written by the author: “…the author of core-js … is looking for a good job…”. And while he had a good reason to do it, many users were annoyed and decided to fork the original repository.
Another example is when in 2016, the author of left-pad (another popular open-source library) unpublished the code from npm, breaking countless builds all over the world. The library, which as of today is downloaded more than 4 million times a week, is a dependency many applications rely on. Certainly, the underlying story is much more complicated and perhaps Azer Koçulu (the author) did the right thing, but lots of users were affected all the same.
On the other hand, we also have projects like Vue.js and Svelte, which have thrived. Both with the potential to become The Next Big Thing™. So a judgement can only be made on a case by case basis.
All in all, the open-source model has remained constant while software ownership is shifting in interesting ways. Regardless of community or enterprise ownership, there’s always an underlying risk of poor decision-making or management. But at the same time, we take (and appreciate) the value which individuals, communities and enterprises give us access to.