Lights, Camera, Open Source: Hollywood Turns to Linux for New Code Sharing Initiative

Software has permeated all industries, bringing us technologies to help create fantastic products and even works of art.No longer confined to sectors whose products are software-focused, everyone from the automotive to the medical industries are writing their own code to meet their needs, some of which may surprise you.

In looking to code smarter, faster and more efficiently, developers across the globe and industries are turning to open-source components that allow them to add powerful features to their work without having to write everything from scratch themselves. One of the latest groups to embrace the Open Source movement is the entertainment industry.

Similar to many other initiatives that have come together in recent years to support the sharing of code between companies, a number of key players under the umbrella of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have teamed up with The Linux Foundation to establish the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF). Members include companies like Disney, Google, Dreamworks, Epic Games and Intel, just to name a few.

Facing the Reality of Open Source

The drive for these entertainment industry players to team up with The Linux Foundation comes after a two-year study by the AMPAS’ Science and Technology Council into how the sector was using open source. Their survey found that some 84% were using open source in their work, specifically in the fields of animation and visual effects.

However, even as these actors understood the benefits of using open-source projects that were being developed by others, maintaining an ecosystem of sharing software between often competing interests proved to be a challenge. Issues of governance, licensing, multiple versions of libraries and siloed development by individual companies proved to be significant pain points.

According to information available from the ASWF, they are providing much of the infrastructure for the projects, including running their CI server on Jenkins where code can go through the build, test and eventually release for use by the members. Using a centralized system, developers at the various member companies can upload their code to the ASWF repository and CI where it is then available to the other teams.

They note that along with support for Linux, their CI infrastructure will offer service for Windows and Mac desktops and servers, an important requirement in an industry with a high level of Apple usage.

Building a Community While Protecting Interests

As the initiative is essentially building on the work that has already been conducted by members of the community before the establishment of the ASWF, the team already has more than 60 different projects listed in its stable that were developed by various members.

Still at the early stages, the ASWF has yet to develop any of its own projects, but there is interest in having them host a number of very popular projects, such as Industrial Light & Magic’s OpenEXR HDR image file format, color management solution OpenColorIO, and OPenVDB, which is used for working with those hard-to-handle objects like clouds and fluids.

Along with promoting cooperation on the development of a more robust set of tools for the industry, one of the goals of the organization moving forward is to put out a shared licensing template that they hope will help smooth the tensions over licensing. It follows that with the growth of projects, navigating the politics over usage rights is bound to be a tricky task.

As noted in a write-up of the ASWF in Variety, licensing under an open-source model was a particular challenge, especially for an industry that is sensitive to digital rights violations. In that interview, The Linux Foundation's executive director Jim Zemlin gives the impression that there is still quite a lot of work ahead of the group as they attempt to navigate which code they will make open source and which they will keep closed. “Open source is a diverse community", he said, adding: “Companies need to be able to share what they want to share and keep what they want to keep.”

Where Is Open Source Headed Next?

Looking at the growth of new open-source initiatives over the past few years, it is clear that all industries have recognized that they are making widespread use of open-source components and that there is a need to organize it if they hope to direct it toward their shared goals efficiently.

As companies in the medical space are increasingly turning toward IoT and software to improve their effectiveness, they are struggling to navigate concerns when it comes to meeting regulations like HIPAA and other constraints that can slow development to a crawl.

Beyond Linux’s projects, which cater to a more full-scale open-sourcing model that has been advantageous in certain sectors, others like the financial industry have seen value in starting their own initiatives that will allow them to share code between member organizations. Finos (formerly called The Symphony Foundation), with its secured repositories and CI system, has allowed an otherwise risk-averse group of businesses like Goldman Sachs, Citi and Deutsche Bank, just to name a few, not only to contribute code, but to pull it as well for their own development.

Taking advantage of the power of open source means taking responsibility for it, whether this is for security or licenses. Initiatives like the ASWF and others from The Linux Foundation are helping to lead to better practices in a range of new and diverse development communities.

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