OSCON ’11, O’Reilly Media’s annual event for all things Open Source, is going on this week in Portland. Of course, this got us thinking about the relationship between Open Source and APIs, and the possibilities of a harmonious blend between the two.
First, what is the difference between open source and open APIs? Quite a bit. I think that Toni Schneider sums it up quite well in this post… open source = decentralized software development, while open API = decentralized business development.
There are a number of projects (and communities) out there where open source projects leverage APIs to provide additional value and open up a new audience to the API provider. In fact, many API providers are encouraging these projects because they have the vision to see how this will lead to wider adoption of their services. Take the Google Apps APIs as an example. According to Google, more than 3 million businesses use Google Apps, with 3,000 more signing up every day. There are thousands of apps for Accounting and Finance, Document Management, Sales and Marketing, and more. Google Apps embraces open source in a number of ways… all of their client libraries and sample code are open source projects, and their Google Apps API Community is an open repository. They provide an environment where projects can be discussed, submitted, and collaborated on.
Another great example is Eucalyptus Systems, which provides Enterprise on-premise Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud platforms to thousands of large companies, including over 25 of the Fortune 100. The project started at UC Santa Barbera as a research project funded by the NSF, and leverages the Amazon AWS API as what they consider the ‘industry standard’.
There are also many open source API initiatives. For example, 2 years ago at OSCON 2009 a small company called Cloudkick introduced their libcloud project, an open source library for developers to build portable cloud applications that can be shuttled from one cloud to another.
These projects would not be successful (and may not even be possible) if they were dependent on closed, proprietary APIs.
In the end, the recent explosion of APIs is just going to make for a stronger and broader set of open source offerings. The ubiquity, increase in productivity, and leveraging of standard technologies and best practices, combined with the open source community’s natural proclivity to share and collaborate, will lead to more great things. And who wins? You and me.
What other open source and API projects are you aware of? Please share.