We recently did an internal survey of Northern.tech employees, asking them questions about their views on Open Source Software. 12 people responded to the survey, including people involved with front end development, back end development, sales, business development, customer support and UX design. This blog post summarizes the results of the survey, and explains how and why we develop Open Source Software at Northern.tech.

Value of Open Source

At Northern.tech we believe in and support Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). When software users have access to the source code, they can make improvements, fix bugs or add features. This benefits all users of the software, including Northern.tech.

75% of respondents said that working with open source was important to them, when looking for a job. If the survey was limited to developers, the number would be even higher. One developer said:

The Open Source aspect of the company was very important in my decision to join Northern.tech. After using so many great open source tools for so long, I felt that I wanted to contribute back.

Open Source Business Model

The core technologies of our current products are open source, actively developed and maintained by Northern.tech, accepting contributions from our community of users. For our paying customers, we provide enterprise plugins, technical support, professional services, and accelerated feature development. This means we can provide a lot of value to both our customers and open source users, while also having a sustainable business.

Open Source Licenses

We use open source licenses approved by OSI. CFEngine uses the GPL license and Mender has an Apache license. Some smaller projects have the permissive MIT license. It’s important for us to choose the best license on a per project basis, to encourage contributions as well as adoption.

Open Source by default

When we make new things, like tools, scripts, proof-of-concepts (PoCs), we always publish them as Open Source, unless there is a specific business decision to make them proprietary. When asked about this in the survey, nobody responded that they would put things like this in a private repository:

Pie chart of open versus closed source projects

In response to this, we created a new place for sharing these smaller projects: gitlab.com/Northern.tech/OpenSource


We would love for you to contribute to our projects! Our contribution guidelines are a good place to start. They are available in Mender and CFEngine repositories on GitHub. We also have curated lists of tasks which are easy for beginners, in CFEngine and Mender.

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