Who pays for open source development? Increasingly, large organizations like Mozilla and the Linux Foundation. That's the trend highlighted by recent moves like the expansion of the Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) project.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

May 16, 2016

3 Min Read
Mozilla and Linux Foundation Advance New Trends in Open Source Funding

Who pays for open source development? Increasingly, large organizations like Mozilla and the Linux Foundation. That’s the trend highlighted by recent moves like the expansion of the Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) project.

The Mozilla Foundation has long injected money into the open source ecosystem through partnerships with other projects and grants. But it formalized that mission last year by launching MOSS, which originally focused on supporting open source projects that directly complement or help form the basis for Mozilla’s own products.

On May 11 Mozilla took MOSS a step further by opening the door for “any open source project in the world which is undertaking an activity that meaningfully furthers Mozilla’s mission” to receive support from the Mozilla Foundation. That means a much broader set of open source developers can apply for support.

The MOSS expansion is notable because it comes at a time when the Linux Foundation, along with industry partners, has also been busily creating opportunities for open source projects to gain financial support. Most notable is the Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII), which launched in 2014.

The CII’s original focus was on shoring up security in widely used open source tools like OpenSSL, a relatively tiny project that is massively important because it creates software used to encrypt millions of websites. The CII launch was in part a response to Heartbleed, which was the source of an embarrassing security fiasco for the open source community born of security flaws in OpenSSL. The CII provided financial support for a code audit of OpenSSL aimed at improving security.

Security is still a big focus at the CIA, whose website touts the “world-class team of security experts” whom the initiative has enlisted as collaborators. Since 2014, however, the program has expanded to include other offerings, which do not focus exclusively on security. Most recently, it introduced a “badge” program for certifying the quality of open source code.

The New Source of Open Source Funding

In terms of dollars, the CII is apparently a larger initiative than MOSS. Mozilla says it has set aside “approximately”$1.25M for its 2016 program. There’s not much data available on the CII’s budget, but the Linux Foundation consistently describes it as a “multi-million” dollar effort. And the names of the industry partners backing it, which include the likes of Google, Facebook and Rackspace, suggest that it enjoys deep-pocketed support.

Yet regardless of who’s laying out the most cash, both MOSS and the CII highlight how large, community-based organizations are now playing a greater role in funding open source development. Traditionally, a lot of the money that supported open source coding came from companies that paid employees to write open source code or businesses, like Red Hat, that funded third-party projects to help build their own open source products.

These sources of cash are not going away. But Mozilla and the Linux Foundation are now providing new ways for open source projects, especially smaller ones in which deep-pocketed companies may have no obvious reason to make a direct investment, to gain access to generous amounts of funding.

Of course, these funding opportunities are generally shaped by the agendas of the organizations that offer them. Nobody gets a free lunch, not even open source coders. But initiatives like MOSS and the CII make it possible for open source programmers to seek financial support without having to appeal to a big company or go to work for someone who will let them write free code on the job.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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