GitHub head of open source Brandon Keepers says: “In an ideal world everything would be open source, but that’s not always the case”.
Open source has many advantages, but it isn’t always the right approach. At the Open Source Open Society 2025 conference in Wellington delegates discussed when projects should be closed and when open is best.
“…it all depends on the circumstances”.
When Open Source is not the best choice
Keepers says at GitHub there are three cases when it is better to stay closed:
- If it makes money. Remember that money can be used to finance open projects.
- When it is specific to internal business processes.
- When you can’t expect to maintain the project in the long-term.
Eventually many of these cases will be brought into the commons.
As an example of this, he says GitHub’s billion code has not been released as an open project. The thinking here is that making it open wouldn’t make the code any better.
Coding not difficult
Catalyst IT founder Don Christie says one argument in favour of open is that coding isn’t difficult.
Most of the time that means others can quickly replicate closed software. He says: “They are going to replicate it anyway. It can be better to make it open source and get the benefits of better code.”
Another argument for keeping projects open is that there is less money in keeping them closed. Christie says: “80 percent of the value in information technology is in services. About 90 percent of New Zealand’s IT exports are in services — that’s despite all the attention given to products.”
Christie says open source also acts as a hiring strategy.