Monday, September 17, 2007

The Most Irritating Question in the World

While I'm waiting on my brain to cough up the rest of the "Open Source Macro vs. Micro" series, I thought I'd post about the Most. Irritating. Question. Ever:

"OMG! Like, how are Open Source developers gonna get paid???"


...usually asked in some worrisome tone, as if Open Source developers around the world were, like, starving or something and panhandling on the street. So here's a quick test on the absurdity of this question:

1. Do you see lots more open source development than ever before?
(yes)


Ok, proceed to the follow-up:

2. Do you see open source developers filling homeless shelters and food stamp lines?
(no)


Well, gosh, I guess that solves that dilemma. And yet, I hear that question ALL THE TIME. In 1999 - 2001, sure, it was a fair question. After all, there was legitimate hypothesizing that open source was fueld mostly by the .com bubble. I never believed that, but the concept was new enough at the time that I can see that as a plausible explanation. But now, going on 7 years after the dot bomb? No way.

Frankly, I just don't understand why the question still pops up. Nor do I understand the usual companion question/statement: "OMG! Red Hat, Canonical, and <insert company here> make money off the backs of free labor from individual developers!" 1.) I don't see why anyone is concerned if an open source developer is monetizing their project and 2.) I don't believe it's true - I think Open Source developers do, in fact, make money. Let's look at Red Hat, a well-known example of an Open Source company - they make money off of many open source projects because they can. Because they've built a reputation around their ability to deliver such projects in a form that is readily digested by their users. Customers find value in this, which is why they pay for it. So what of the individual projects that comprise Red Hat's distributions? What if they don't get paid? Assuming they don't get paid, you can really only point to one reason: because no one thought it was of high enough value to pay for it. Whether or not Red Hat is in the picture to make money off of their distribution and support is immaterial - either way, this hypothetical open source project is not making money. However, *with* the existence of Red Hat, suddenly these open source developers have a conduit to a rather large audience and now have business opportunities that would not otherwise be possible. In fact, if you take a look at Fedora or Ubuntu these days, you'll find lots of software that is directly supported from various companies for various reasons - and some that isn't.

If developers don't get paid, it's not Red Hat's (or anyone else's) fault. I don't actually believe that open source developers work for free - in fact, I think the vast majority of developers get paid in some form or another. Those who cut their teeth on personal projects will surely be able to parlay that into some form of employment in the very near future. Or they're paid by their company to work on a side project that's not a core piece of software. OR, as is increasingly true, they work for a company that sees the light and pays them to work on their core product, which happens to be Open Source.

This is not rocket science. The early open source nay-sayers often contended that open source wouldn't last because no one would get paid for it. They were wrong then, and they're wrong now.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

So. Back to the question. How are Open Source Developers going to get paid?

Ronald said...

So. Back to the question. How are Open Source Developers going to get paid?

They are going to get paid by individuals and companies, who need continuous development of the software they use daily.

The code is available and could be "leached", but it doesn't appear out of thin air. Paying for development makes sense.

John Mark said...

@anonymous: the same way other developers get paid - with money for services rendered

tymonn said...

If i applied to a job in a software developing company and if my curriculum says "worked on Linux Ubuntu" It's almost a "the-job-is-yours"

awesome post ;)

"noCharge"_is_not_"free" said...

tymonn sez,
> If i applied to a job in a software developing
> company and if my curriculum says "worked
> on Linux Ubuntu" It's almost a "the-job-is-yours"

gimme a break

Daniel said...

I believe there might be some confusion between core teams and contributors. Major projects are sponsored by corporations, e.g,. OpenOffice.org is a Sun Microsystems project, and now IBM is "contributing" 35 programmers. I think Linus Torvalds himself is paid by Transmeta although I'm not too sure about that now. Bruce Perens was (still is??) an employee of Hewlett-Packard and did Free/Open Source work on behalf of HP. The Apache project might be big enough not to need sponsors, but they make money off services.

As an aside, I can think of at least one Free/Open Source project that got messed up because sponsors thought they had a right to dictate on features: FreeBSD's 5.x branch.

OTOH, contributors are I guess mostly hobbyists or programmers with a full-time job in some IT department. Their contribution is snippets of code either to fix a bug or enhance a feature. Having full-time paying jobs, they don't need compensation.

Daniel said...

Sorry, clicked on Submit too soon :blush: Wanted to point out the services that Free/Open Source projects might render:

* training
* documentation (e.g., JBoss)
* customization

Anonymous said...

Seriously, i couldn't read almost all of it.
So you can't understand why people who never heard much of FREE SOFTWARE don't know how people are paid.

Common, what a complete waste of time this article.

John Mark said...

Dear anonymous coward,

Yes, after almost 10 years of open source proliferation, I expect the most casual onlooker to understand the basics of why this stuff continues unabated. Is that asking too much? Seriously, how many companies, developers and users need to adopt open source software in order for the light to come on?

Anonymous said...

It's only anonymous, but thanks for the insult, it clarifies further how you approach people.

The world does not revolve around computers, and yes, there are millions of people who just don't know.

They do NOT assume open source (free software) developers starve, they just DON'T KNOW, so some ask, others dig.

Some people don't know how to use a computer (yes, they are still out there), the World has many colors and perspectives.

What gives dude, the world has been like this since.. ever!

John Mark said...

I was talking about people in the IT industry - usually management types. I'm not talking about people like my parents, who aren't familiar with any computer industry.

So, for the former, yes, I expect them to know better. I suppose I could have made it absolutely clear to whom I was referring, but geez, I thought it was obvious.

As for the anonymity slam - yeah, fair enough.