Roben Kleene

Visual Studio Code & Corporate-Sponsored Open Source

On The Changelog episode #277 about Visual Studio Code, Chris Dias, from the Visual Studio Code team, says that there are 20-25 people working on the product. He doesn’t specify the roles of all those people (or say if they’re working on it full time) but it puts the success of Visual Studio Code into perspective. For comparison, TextMate and Sublime Text are both mainly developed by one person. What do you do when one of the biggest companies in the world starts giving away a competitor to your product for free?

I call this model, used by Visual Studio Code and Atom, “corporate-sponsored open source” in order to differentiate it from the community-driven open source of Emacs and Neovim. Corporate-sponsored open source isn’t new, it’s been popular particularly with frameworks for a long time1, but its influence on desktop apps is relatively new2.

The business strategy for frameworks is straightforward, and therefore less problematic: The frameworks are usually used by these companies to build other products that are presumably tied directly to revenue.

But with these desktop apps, it’s harder to see how they fit into a revenue strategy, which is concerning. On the one hand, there’s the stability question: How long will it be sustainable to invest this much into a product that doesn’t directly impact revenue? On the other hand, if the product does actually fit into the company’s business model, if you’re not paying for it, than it’s probably not going to be in way that you like.

  1. Blink, WebKit, React and TensorFlow are all framework examples of corporate-sponsored open source. ↩︎

  2. The main examples of desktop corporate-sponsored open source are Visual Studio Code and Atom, and you could somewhat make the case for including Google Chrome and Chromium↩︎