Red Hat CEO: Open Source Spurs User-Driven Innovation

It’s not just that open source enables innovation, it’s that “innovation happens first with open source.” This was the observation of Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst at North Bridge Venture Partners’ recent “Startup Secrets” event in Boston.

“Having user-driven innovation as the model means that the people with the problem are actually solving that problem, which has lead to this disruptive explosion of innovation,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst is spot on here, and with big brands like Twitter, Facebook and Google utilizing open source models to push better features and innovative products at a quicker pace, there’s no question that this open innovation is shaping the future of IT. According to a recent article on Tech Zone 360, Facebook’s Open Source team will be bringing the retooling and development of recent projects and ideas to the open source community. Similarly, Twitter runs on open source, utilizing tools such as Apache Mesos, Netty, and Scalding and Google Apps are built off of open source APIs.

Big data, cloud, mobile and cloud applications are all within this realm and it is largely because the open source community can crowdsource innovation, giving it a significant advantage over the limited development resources of proprietary software. Open source contributors have a vision for a platform that will change the world by sharing code and ideas to improve the way brands do business and tell their story.

Open source is disrupting all industries, ranging from education to healthcare and the public sector. Social platforms and mobile startups are using open source APIs to bring their ideas to life with their disruptive business models.

And as Whitehurst noted, open source is beginning to change the nature of where innovation occurs. Brands like Amazon and Facebook benefit from each other’s open source improvements and from there, they can have a presence globally, connecting any number of users and ideas. Improvements in software and design through open source for airlines allow planes to fly longer and to more locations.

But this model for user-driven innovation has been around for quite some time, which is a key staple in open source’s success.

“When you think about the Industrial Revolution, the winners weren’t the ones who were the machine makers,” Whitehurst said. “The winners were the ones who took the machine tools and perfected mass manufacturing because they were seeing these problems every day and making the necessary changes to continuously improve and innovate.”

With the open source community continuing to grow, we’re seeing this become a disruptive model that enhances collaboration and innovation. Examples of this include: open source 3-D metal printing, the evolution and impact of Raspberry Pi, and the widespread use of open source software, such as Wordpress and Drupal. At an even larger scale, the new API of the "We the People" petition site (already built on open source) will enable other sites and third parties to submit official petitions with hopes of encouraging more participation and responses to key issues. User-driven innovation will continue to be the fire that will fuel open source’s continued disruptive impact.