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Our investment in a sustainable open source ecosystem

Since this year, ELAN e.V. has been supporting the open source ecosystem financially via "GitHub Sponsors“. Of course, we've been contributing to the world of free software since our inception: nearly all of the software we develop is released under an open source license, and we diligently contribute to external open source software projects. Nevertheless: our software is of course based on the work of many others. Therefore, like all other IT companies, we bear responsibility for the sustainability of our open source supply chain.

What exactly is meant by that? Writing software is a non-trivial endeavor that involves solving many different tasks and problems to achieve the desired end result. As you might expect, the same tasks/problems often appear in many projects. So that every development team does not have to start from scratch each time, these frequently occurring sub-problems can be solved separately and this solution (in the form of code) can be used again and again. This is the bulk of the open source ecosystem: so-called "libraries" (collections of code), each of which solves a specific task and can be downloaded and used free of charge. Without this variety of software libraries, modern software development would be drastically slower and software quality significantly lower. This applies in particular to commercial software, since this is almost always based on open source.

Of course, all these libraries need to be developed and maintained over time. The problem is: In most cases, this is done by individual programmers in their free time. All too often, a critical project (which solves a core task and resides on virtually every PC) is maintained by a single human. Of course, such simple mistakes can happen, the programmer could lose interest or run out of time, or the project could become a problem for countless other reasons. No one can and should expect that someone will invest their free time in such a project over decades.

Fortunately, this problem has become more and more present in recent years - among other things due to incidents such as the log4shell vulnerability. Something is also moving in politics, such as the Sovereign Tech Fund shows.

Many software projects are often based on hundreds, sometimes thousands, of libraries. Fortunately, again, most libraries are used by a great many projects. Crowdfunding is a good idea here: Each company makes a small financial contribution so that the maintenance of the libraries is financed overall. ELAN e.V. has decided to contribute to this.

For the time being, we only use GitHub sponsors. This allows us to easily find and support many of the libraries that our software is built on. We realize that this isn't a perfect solution: not all of our dependencies are maintained on GitHub, and not all of the people we want to support participate in the program. Nevertheless, we consider our initial step to be sensible and want to make our small contribution. In the future we hope to increase our budget and support people outside of GitHub sponsors.

Porträt LukasMarcus Eibrink-Lunzenauer
Autor: Lukas Kalbertodt
Autor: Marcus Eibrink-Lunzenauer
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