In this exclusive Q&A, we delve into the world of open source software, with Deb Goodkin.
Deb Goodkin is the Executive Director of the FreeBSD Foundation, which supports the open-source FreeBSD operating system and its worldwide community. Deb has been with the Foundation since 2005. Earlier in her career, she held engineering roles.
She offers insights into the present state of FreeBSD, addresses common misconceptions about open-source software, discusses FreeBSD’s role in the ever-important landscape of security, and peers into the future of the open-source ecosystem.
1. 30 years after the open-source project launched, how would you characterize the current state of the FreeBSD operating system?
The FreeBSD project and community continue to grow, innovate, and lead the way regarding open-source security, stability, and performance. The project’s permissive license attracts more commercial users to base their products on FreeBSD. Users appreciate the minimal base system, easily customizable for their use cases. It is tightly integrated and doesn’t have the bloat of unnecessary software running, but has thousands of software packages available that can be easily installed to run only what the user needs. This permissive license allows companies to innovate more quickly without dealing with lawyers or fearing that the license will change.
Going forward, I believe FreeBSD is well-positioned to be the operating system of choice for gaming, fast internet transfer rates, secured infrastructure, AI, and many other markets. The FreeBSD Foundation is expanding its staff to provide more resources for these areas while ensuring FreeBSD works in the Enterprise market as well as for individuals interested in learning systems programming and contributing to an open-source project.
Speaking of the latter, we’re seeing many young people getting involved in the Project for many reasons, including learning marketable skills, the opportunity to make impactful contributions, and participating in a particularly welcoming community.
2. Are there any lingering misconceptions or myths about using open-source software? Have enterprises gotten better at addressing them?
Some misconceptions I can think of are that they all use the same license, that it’s free, and that there will always be someone to fix issues. Even though open-source software is typically free, there usually are costs associated with using it. For example, even if a company doesn’t modify the code, they usually pay for a support contract or have staff members who manage the software. Some foundations, like ours, support open-source projects in many ways that couldn’t exist if companies didn’t fund our efforts. Many open-source software projects only have 1-2 maintainers, so getting a bug fixed or a desired feature added for a company could be difficult.
3. With security increasingly top-of-mind for enterprise developers, how does FreeBSD fit in?
Since early on, the FreeBSD Project has led our security-by-design approach. However, we are years ahead in the innovation between Arm and the University of Cambridge in their collaborative Morello project. Memory-protecting languages are big right now, but rewriting code is a huge effort. Morello addresses this challenge by integrating Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC (CHERI) in the hardware, which enables fine-grained C/C++ memory safety and scalable software compartmentalization.
We are committed to staying up-to-date with the latest government security guidelines and mandates, and our Director of Partnerships and Research ensures our voice is part of the decision-making process and conversations, and we are following all necessary guidelines and requirements.
4. There’s never a shortage of opinion around the future of the open-source ecosystem. Broadly speaking, how do you see open-source evolving in the next 5 (or 30!) years?
According to recent data from GitHub, 97% of applications use open-source software, and it seems like this reliance on open-source software will only increase in the future. However, some companies that provide open-source software are changing their licenses, which may drive users to choose more permissive and business-friendly licenses.
We are seeing more interest from commercial users because of the potential legal issues and the desire to avoid worrying about the different licenses they have in their supply chain. That will certainly be a trend to keep an eye on in the coming years.