Why We Are Open Source

Why we are Open Source. Simple. For our team and so many colleagues doing the work of building digital experiences, open source is simply in our blood.

open source apostrophe

Over the last three months, the core Apostrophe team has spent hundreds of hours working to get Apostrophe 3-alpha ready to share with the community. This push comes after more than a year of design, architecture, and collaborative engineering work. And in just a few months, we'll release all of this work to the world as free software.

In the midst of this effort, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on how our core values as a team and guiding strategies as a company inform the decision to give this work away to the community.

Why do we open source so much of our product? Why not opt for a SaaS focused business model or a closed source tool with a commercial license?

Building on the work of other open source projects

For myself, our team, and so many colleagues doing the work of building digital experiences, open source is simply in our blood. One of the amazing things about working in this space is that the broader ecosystem of tools is driven so heavily by the work of Open Source (in our case: Vue.js, Express, Node.js, npm, V8, Nginx, Linux) and open standards (JavaScript, CSS, HTML, HTTP). The best way for anybody to create anything of meaningful value is to dive in and leverage this massive ecosystem. In doing so you can't help but be heavily informed and influenced by these open models in your own work.

Ultimately, what might start as a feeling of obligation to contribute back to "the community" at a certain point becomes the most natural way to release software, with significant benefits to the quality of the product and the energy of the team building it.

Enforcing practices that help us build the best software

By building our product as Open Source, we believe we are holding ourselves accountable to practices that will lead to the best quality software. "Coding in public" means we are renewing our commitment to producing the highest quality code. In addition to internal code review, all of our code is subject to public scrutiny.

Public scrutiny is especially valuable in the area of security. Security can only be achieved through programming techniques that are actually secure. In an Open Source project, the temptation of "security by obscurity" doesn't exist. Since all code can be decompiled and eventually will be by sufficiently patient bad actors, it is best to avoid the moral hazard of thinking your closed source code is truly secret.

You don't have to take my word on this either. In Red Hat's State of Enterprise Open Source 2020, their survey results from nearly 1000 IT leaders showed that two of the top three reasons organizations were choosing to use Open Source were "higher quality of software" and "better security."

Open source communities are constantly improving their skills and discussing new tools and techniques. Closed source programming increases the temptation to overspecialize for too long.

Creating an ecosystem of third party partners and extensions

Apostrophe's growth as an Open Source ecosystem has long been supported by a community of developers and agencies. This ecosystem is healthier when more people adopt the tool and build solutions on top of it. Healthier means more modules, more projects, more companies using ApostropheCMS and investing their time in energy into mastering the technology stack.

Because of the open source license, partners need not fear "vendor lock-in" when choosing to engage with Apostrophe, even if they never contribute to the code.

We believe that a permissive license on our core software product will lead to the strongest possible ecosystem of partners and new modules, ultimately driving more opportunities for our company as the leading provider of Apostrophe based solutions and services.

Combining craft and purpose

ApostropheCMS was originally created at P'unk Avenue, a digital agency focused on working with purpose driven organizations. At P'unk Avenue, Apostrophe's original core team was fortunate to be able to practice the craft of design and engineering in the service of projects and initiatives that it found meaningful and important.

Now that we've built a dedicated business around Apostrophe, we seek to continue this alignment of craft and purpose through continuing to open source our work. We find meaning in the ethos of open source: sharing knowledge with the world, lowering the barrier to entry, and democratizing access through open standards, and we are fortunate to be able to collaborate with a community of like-minded makers who follow similar ideals.

Focusing more on the product, less on sales and marketing

We are makers at heart, striving for the satisfaction of building great software and the delight of connecting with others in our field. This TechCrunch article articulates how we can leverage this to our benefit in the context of an open-source business model:

Another great advantage of open-source companies is their far more efficient and viral go-to-market motion. Because so much of the initial adoption of open-source software comes from developers organically downloading and using the software, the companies themselves can often bypass both the marketing pitch and the proof-of-concept stage of the sales cycle.

Some of our most successful commercial partnerships have grown organically from the small seed of a proof of concept by a team using our open source tools. Others have blossomed after ApostropheCMS already had its roots planted firmly in a team's technology stack. These are natural beginnings for positive outcomes on both sides, focused on technical discovery and a collaborative approach, and by far our preferred path through the sales cycle.

Bringing open source to the enterprise

We've been working in the open source world for 15+ years, all the while seeing all of this incredible value it brings. Now more than ever this value is being appreciated by technology leaders in the enterprise. As the Red Hat article I mentioned above indicates:

Enterprise open source has become a default choice of IT departments around the world and organizations are using open source in categories that have historically been more associated with proprietary technology.

Higher quality software. Better security. These things matter to organizations of all sizes. Even Microsoft - for many years a fierce opponent to the idea of open source - now agrees: you no longer need to be a hip startup to invest heavily in an open source strategy for your technology stack. The product landscape for building enterprise digital experiences is evolving tremendously as a result.

Apostrophe 3 and beyond

We believe that our commercial solutions will only be successful with continued renewal on our commitment to Open Source and the community we are a part of:

  • Build the highest quality product
  • Support the healthiest possible ecosystem of developers and partners
  • Focus on craft and purpose to attract and retain the best talent

These are the objectives we have firmly in mind as we rally the team around the work of Apostrophe 3. It's never felt like a better time to be releasing Open Source software.

Want to contribute to Apostrophe?

Check out our contributor guide. We look forward to hearing from you!