Monday, June 1, 2009

Open Source Freeloaders

In an interesting entry about leeches in open source software, the question of big corporations and open source software freeloading is raised. Does such a thing as freeloading on open source software exist? Well, according to the entry, some members of certain open source communities believe that doing so in a corporate environment without ever contributing back to the community would be considered freeloading. However, the open source license used in many popular open source projects does not require any contribution back to the community. Is this an ethical concern then? Do corporations feel bad for not contributing back to a software project that they are allowed to use for free? No. Individuals, maybe.

When you have put a significant time and effort investment anything, you generally want it appreciated. It is easy to see how the core developers of a successful project become essentially unimaginative toward it. The willingness of someone to contribute back any kind of artifact boosts the overall project motivation. The project team no longer feels that they are working toward something that has already become a lost cause. However, there are also implicit contributions made to open source projects.

The mere public knowledge that a large corporation is using any given open source project is probably worth more to the project than anything tangible the corporation would be willing to contribute. People within large corporations didn't decide to use a particular open source solution for the good of their health. They use it because it does what it is supposed to do. This should be very motivating. I'm always impressed by the fact that I use a programming language NASA considers useful.

What about when large corporations complain loudly and thoroughly about a open source project? Well, this does two things for the project. First, it demonstrates that corporation is using the software otherwise they would never take the time to complain about it. Second, it sets the stage for the project. The corporation does all the leg work by pointing public attention toward the flaws in the software. Now all eyes are on the project. All that's left to do is fix it quickly deliver in front of everyone. It seems that there isn't too much damage that freeloading can do to the open source software industry.