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With the recent announcement of the Open Usage Commons foundation, I’ve been thinking about what it means for a foundation to be neutral and why open source projects need foundations for collaborative leadership. The unbridled success of Kubernetes can be attributed in part to being in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Putting Kubernetes into a neutral foundation provided a level playing field where each of us could contribute, collaborate and innovate as equals to create a widely adopted solution that we can all use. This democratization of contribution means that all types of contributors can participate from all types of companies or as individuals.

The CNCF requires that graduating projects have a documented governance process, and they are developing resources to help projects develop good open source governance practices. The transparency that comes from having a documented and fair governance process when combined with being part of a neutral foundation provides contributors with some assurances about the future of the project. In contrast, when a project is owned by a company, there is little recourse for outside contributors when that company decides to go in a direction that doesn’t align with the needs or expectations of the other participants.

The entire cloud native ecosystem benefits from having a level playing field for contributions to open source projects that belong to neutral foundations. The end user has access to more innovation from a diverse group of contributors while also reducing vendor lock-in. For example, users of Kubernetes can consume enterprise versions from a wide variety of vendors that can run on any of the leading cloud providers. Software vendors contribute to these open source projects with the confidence that no one company is in control of the project, and that they can contribute as equals within the community. Open source projects that are controlled by a single company are higher risk because they operate at the whims of that company, whereas projects that are under neutral foundations have a lower risk both for end users and software vendors.

However, companies should understand that contributing to a project to a foundation is an ongoing commitment, not an exit strategy, and you need to be prepared to provide staff and other support over the long term. It is also important to think about when your project might be ready to contribute to a foundation. If your project is very immature, foundations are unlikely to be interested in your project, whereas a project with many users and good traction that just needs help moving to the next level would be much more likely to be accepted.

We believe that contributing open source projects to foundations is important and is something that VMware does regularly. For example, VMware has contributed Harbor and Contour to the CNCF and Tern to the Linux Foundation’s Automated Compliance Tooling (ACT) project. We’ve also contributed projects to the Apache Software Foundation and other foundations. With advantages that include community building, innovation and wider adoption, we should all consider contributing more of our open source projects to neutral foundations, like the Linux Foundation, CNCF or Apache Software Foundation to name just a few.

Dawn Foster is the Director of Open Source Community Strategy in VMware’s Open Source Program Office. You can learn more about Dawn by visiting her blog (fastwonderblog.com) or following her on Twitter (@geekygirldawn).