This post is an enhanced republication of an OpEd I wrote jointly with Jordan Schneider a month ago that was published in Wired Magazine. This enhanced version includes more information on how governments around the world are adopting open source technology, like Israel, India, and Pakistan. It also now has a Chinese language version, which is of course a “default requirement” for a bilingual newsletter like this one. Hope you like it!

When you stream the latest Netflix show, you fire up servers on Amazon Web Services, most of which run on Linux. When an F-16 fighter takes off, three Kubernetes clusters run to keep the jet’s software running. When you visit a website, any website, chances are it’s run on Node.js. These foundational technologies—Linux, Kubernetes, Node.js—and many others that silently permeate our lives have one thing in common: open source.

Open source is a technology development and distribution methodology, where the codebase and all development—from setting a roadmap to building new features, fixing bugs, and writing documentation—is done in public. A governing body (a group of hobbyists, a company, or a non-profit foundation) publicly manages this work, which is most often done in a public repository on either GitHub or GitLab. Open source has two important, and somewhat counterintuitive, advantages: speed and security.

These practices lead to faster technological developments, because a built-in global community of developers helps them mature, especially if the technology is solving a real problem. Top engineers also prefer to work with and on open source projects. Wrongly cast as secretive automatons, they are more often like artists, who prefer to learn, work, collaborate, and showcase what they’ve built in public, even when they are barely compensated for that work.

But doesn’t keeping a technology's codebase open make it more vulnerable to attack? In fact, exposing the codebase publicly for security experts and hackers to easily access and test is the best way to keep the technology secure and build trust with end users for the long haul. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and open source is that sunlight in technology. Linux, the operating system, and Kubernetes, the cloud container orchestration system, are two of the most prominent examples.

Open source is not limited to software, but also impacts hardware development. RISC-V, first introduced in 2010 at UC Berkeley, is an open source chip design instruction set architecture—which tells a chip how to do basic computation, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. RISC-V is gaining traction in the hardware manufacturing space throughout the world, because it lowers barriers to entry and increases chip development speed. OpenRAN, an open source 5G networking stack that started gaining momentum in 2016, is also gaining more attention and has already been embraced by the UK and Japanese governments.

Using open source technology is now the fastest way new products get built and legacy technologies get replaced. Yet as US policymakers develop their industrial policy to compete with China, open source is conspicuously absent.

By leaning on the advantages of open source, policymakers can pursue an industrial policy to help the US compete in the 21st century in line with our broader values. The alternative is to continue a top-down process that picks winners and losers based on not just technology but also political influence, which only helps individual firms secure market share, not sparking innovation more broadly. A few billion more dollars won’t save Intel from its technical woes, but a healthier ecosystem leveraging open source technology and community would put the US in a better position for the future.

Open source technology allows for vendor-neutrality. Whether you’re a country or a company, if you use open source, you’re not locked in to another company’s technical stack, road map, or licensing agreements. After Linux was first created in 1991, it was widely adopted by large companies like Dell and IBM as a vendor-neutral alternative to Microsoft’s Windows operating system. In the future, chip designers won’t be locked into Intel or ARM with RISC-V. With OpenRAN, 5G network builders won’t be forced to buy from Huawei, Nokia, or Ericsson.

However, open source is not the panacea to all problems. By definition, anyone can run, change, copy, and distribute an open source technology. Thus, the technology and knowledge transfer can go to friends or foes.

China’s technology sector is already starting to embrace open source—a sensible thing to do for a country looking to maintain its rapid growth and establish technological self-reliance in the face of US sanctions. Its Ministry Industry and Information Technology included open source in an official policy planning document back in 2016 and just a few months ago anointed Gitee, a GitHub competitor, to be the domestic “national champion” to drive open source growth in China. Earlier this month, Huawei also open sourced its homemade mobile operating system, HarmonyOS, now called OpenHarmony, which anchors a brand new open source technology foundation, the OpenAtom Foundation -- China’s first.

China isn’t alone. The Israel Defense Forces have adopted open source technologies, like OpenStack and Hadoop, to not only cut down on IT cost, but also deliver faster and more secure software for its soldiers. India recently announced a national competition to promote the use of RISC-V to achieve self-sufficiency in semiconductors. India’s archrival, Pakistan, is also no stranger to open source and RISC-V; last year, it hosted a tech symposium for SiFive (a RISC-V oriented startup) that drew more than 2,500 people. More interestingly, SiFive closed a $60 million USD funding round in August that included investments from the corporate venture arm of SK Hynix, a South Korean semiconductor giant, and Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil and gas company -- both with tight relationships with their respective governments. Open source is being adopted by many countries as part of their industrial future, and this trend will not stop.

This should not scare American policymakers, because the core values of open source—transparency, openness, and collaboration—play to America’s strengths. The Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of open source technologies and is well versed in the intricacies and nuances. A few federal agencies have also open-sourced their code, as part of the Federal Source Code policy instituted during the waning days of the Obama administration in 2016. Among other things, this policy requires all federal agencies to open-source 20 percent of their custom-made codebase. Today, anyone can find and use the code open-sourced from these departments on Both the policy and the code repositories are managed publicly and transparently—as all good open source projects should be.

This is a set of muscles and capabilities that China, Pakistan, and other countries do not (yet) have. This is a competition that is America’s to lose.

Instead of a directionless trade war with China, America should articulate a clear set of industrial policies, objectives, and a vision for the future with open source as the centerpiece. In the meantime, open source can play a pivotal role in fighting COVID-19. It’s already happening organically with Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH), a global collaborative effort leveraging open source apps built on top of the Google Apple Exposure Notification system to make Covid-19 exposure notification more accessible. Instead of shuttling around the world telling others to not use Huawei, the White House should work closely with allies to embrace and foster OpenRAN, a promising but still immature technology.

By doubling down on open source, America can not only address some of our most pressing technological challenges faster and more securely, but also revive relationships with our allies and deepen productive collaborations with the tech sector.

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这篇文章是我一个月前与司马乔丹(Jordan Schneider)联合撰写的一篇专栏文章的增强版,原文发表在 Wired Magazine上。这篇“增强版”包括了更多关于世界各国政府如何使用开源科技的内容,如以色列、印度和巴基斯坦。而且现在也有中文版本了,这也是一份双语周刊必须有的“默认需求”哈。希望您喜欢!

当你在Netflix看电影或电视节目时,会启动Amazon Web Services上的服务器,大部分都运行在Linux上。当一架F-16战斗机起飞时,三个Kubernetes机群会同时运行,以保持飞机里系统软件的正常运作。当你访问一个网站,任何一个网站是,都有可能启动运行Node.js. 这些基础科技-- Linux,Kubernetes,Node.js -- 包括其他许多技术都在默默渗透大家的生活中。它们的共同点:开源。










中国不是唯一一个拥抱开源的国家。以色列国防军已经采用了许多开源技术,如OpenStack和Hadoop,不仅为了降低IT成本,还为其士兵更快的提供了更安全的软件。印度最近宣布了一项全国竞赛,来推广对RISC-V的使用来加速国家实现半导体领域科技独立的步伐。印度的“死对头”,巴基斯坦,对开源和RISC-V也并不陌生;它去年为SiFive(一家主攻RISC-V的创业公司)举办了一次技术研讨会,有2500多人参加。更有意思的是,SiFive在8月份完成了一轮6000万美元的融资,其中包括韩国半导体巨头SK Hynix的企业风投和沙特阿拉伯国家石油天然气公司Aramco的投资,这两家公司都与各自的政府关系密切。开源正被许多国家作为其工业未来的一部分而拥抱,这个趋势不会停止。