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Software The Almighty Buck

Young Programmer, Stop Advocating Free Software! 1452

Posted by Hemos
from the *click*-flame-thrower-on dept.
Lansdowne writes "Clemens Vasters, in an open letter to a young developer he met at a software conference, asks him to consider the consequences of writing software for free. "Software is the immediate result and the manifestation of what your learned and what you know. How much is that worth? Nothing? Think again."" While I don't particularly agree with all of the points made here, this is the type of question that needs to be answered to continue to get people involved in Free/Open/Libre/GNU/whatever source/software/code.
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Young Programmer, Stop Advocating Free Software!

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  • by mpost4 (115369) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:15AM (#8428882) Homepage Journal
    So here is the text of the letter.

    ----

    Dear Aiden,

    I think you remember the conversation we had recently at this software conference in Dublin. You came up to me and told me how the stuff I was talking about was mostly useless, because it is closed-source, people need to pay for it and that companies charging for software are evil anyways - especially Microsoft. Unfortunately I don't have your email, but I am sure this will reach you.

    First, I would like to thank you for the interesting conversation that developed and to make sure that none of what was said just fades away, I'll tell you here once again what I am thinking about what you do, what you think and - most importantly about your future.

    When I was 21 - like you now - I was also at university and was pursing a computer science master degree. Back then, I was very enthusiastic about programming and creating stuff that mattered. And thought that I was the best programmer the field has ever seen and everyone else was mostly worthless. And I did indeed write some programs that mattered and made a difference. The program I spent some 3 years writing in Turbo Pascal from when I was 18 was for my father's business. Because the business he's in requires a lot of bureaucracy, he and my mother spent about 2-3 daily hours on average doing all of this stuff by hand. When I was done with my program and he started using it, that time went from 3 hours to about 15 minutes a day. That was software that absolutely improved the quality of life for the entire family! And his friends and colleagues loved it, too. I didn't sell many licenses at that time (I think I had 3 customers), but each one was worth 1500 German Marks and that was a huge heap of money for me. I mean - I was living at my parent's house, getting a monthly allowance of 120 German Marks and worked as a cable grip for a couple of TV stations every once in a while - maybe 2-3 times a month. And if I ever had 400 Marks per month I could really consider myself massively rich at the time and for my age, because I had very minimal additional expenses. So 4500 Marks on top of that? Fantastic. Where did the money go? I can't really remember where it all went, but I guess "lot of partying" or "Girls, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll" would be a reasonably good explanation. Hey, I was 21 and that's what one is supposed to do at that age, right?

    That was in 1990 - let's fast forward to 2004 and you. All software that you and your father could possibly be interested in has already been written. That's probably not true, but it's hard to think of something, right? Ok, the software may not run on your favorite operation system and may cost money, but what you can immediately think of is likely there. So where do you put all your energy? Into this absolutely amazing open-source project you co-coordinate. I mean, really, the stuff that you and your buddies are doing there is truly impressive. There are a couple of things I'd probably do differently in terms of design and architecture, but it works well and that's mostly what matters. And you do make an impact as well. I know that hundreds of people and dozens of companies use your stuff. That's great.

    However, I start to wonder where your benefit is. You are - out of principle - not making any money out of this, because it is open-source and you and your buddies insist that it must be absolutely free. So you are putting all of that time and energy into this project for what? Fame? To found a career? Come on.

    If someone installs your work from disc 3 of some Linux distro, they couldn't care less who you are. The whole fame thing you are telling me only works amongst geeks. The good looking, intelligent girl over there at the bar that you'd really like to talk to doesn't care much whether you are famous amongst a group of geeks and neither does she even remotely fathom why you'd be famous for that stuff in the first place. I mean - get real here.

    So once you get your degree from school, what's the plan?

    Right now,
    • by MotherInferior (698543) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:22AM (#8428946)

      So once you get your degree from school, what's the plan?

      To get outsourced.

      • by shokk (187512) <ernieoporto@ y a h o o .com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:05PM (#8430329) Homepage Journal
        As long as you promote the idea that the software industry is mostly about cheap cheap products (labor services and software) it will make sense to go for the cheapest labor now that companies can get the cheapest software. If you are in one of these third-world countries that are gaining employment your perspective on this may be a little more positive than for those of us losing jobs. This has all gone to only make it possible for companies to draw margins even more razor thin than before, inviting catastrophe when they find that their entire software support/writing staff had to flee some tribal violence or a natural calamity that could have been avoided by a decent national infrastructure.
    • Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sosume (680416) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:23AM (#8428964) Journal
      I couldn't agree more wholehearted. Indeed, when I was 20, I thought that all software had to be free. Now that I'm (past) 30, I sometimes wonder where all the paychecks get paid from.
      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:28AM (#8429028) Homepage Journal
        The problem is when people start using words like "all." Does all software need to be free? Of course not. Does all software need to be proprietary? Again, of course not. Stallman on one end and Gates on the other are both fanatics. (It's a pity that we live in a society that categorizes the former as a fanatic but gives the latter a free pass, but that's a whole 'nother argument.) In between are those of us who recognize that a mix of distribution models is both possible and desirable.

        I work for a small company that makes money by selling proprietary software. I'm the DBA, and get my work done using primarily free tools (MySQL, PHP, Perl, Apache, Linux, BSD.) I also write open-source software on my own time. Everybody wins.
        • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jwthompson2 (749521) * <{moc.smargorpnialp} {ta} {semaj}> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:46AM (#8429256) Homepage
          Agreed.

          I work for a company that releases all our software as free software but makes money by supporting it, cutomizing it and consulting on it. Our market is small and developers are few, but we get the job done, and no one is going hungry as far as I know. I don't have any animosity towards Microsoft except as it relates to the fact that their software exposes me to a great deal of risk because of the bugs, but I think they have every right to do software the way they have chosen. Open Source and Free Software isn't the only way to do software, but it can many times be the better way to do software from a quality and agility standpoint...

          That's my $0.02...
          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mr_majestyk (671595) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:34PM (#8429876)
            no one is going hungry as far as I know

            The point is that as a good programmer, you should be able to do much better than simply "not go hungry".

            What the Open Source movement often overlooks is that a vast continuum of software businesses exists that are not monopolies, but still do a very good - and respected - business licensing closed source software. These softwware products benefits customers and partners who have a choice of suppliers, while delivering extraordinary rewards for employees.

            It sometimes seems that Open Source rhetoric assumes that all Closed Source == Microsoft, and therefore must be eliminated.
        • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Frymaster (171343) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:52AM (#8429320) Homepage Journal
          exactly... it's important to realize that while software can be a commodity brokered for cash, it is far from being the only revenue stream and is, in most cases, not even the most valuable one. in the "information services" world you can make a tonne of money:

          1. providing support
          2. customization
          3. install and maintainance
          4. using the software to sell tangible goods
          5. using the software to attract eyeballs for ads

          you can run those revenue streams on open or closed wares... and if anything, the above revenue models will be more successful on opensource wares because they are more reliable (as in they won't disappear if the partent company goes out of business) and the talent pool for using them is greater.

          if it wasn't for oss wares, my company wouldn't even exist and i wouldn't have this job. period.

          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by zbuffered (125292) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:40PM (#8429966)
            if it wasn't for oss wares, my company wouldn't even exist and i wouldn't have this job. period.

            That's what this guy Clemens was saying, though... The OSS programmer does his work for free. If he is a part of a larger group, selling support, or using the free software to help sell hardware, then that's one thing, but in many circumstances people who develop free software do so independently of larger backing -- they do it out of the goodness of their heart, their desire to contribute. That doesn't pay the bills. Then, companies such as yours take his work, make it their own (as they have every right to do--he specifically grants them that right when he releases the software), and profit from it. He not only doesn't profit from his software, he enables others to profit from it.

            Clemens' argument is specific to this kid's circumstance, where the kid may want to spend most of his working life writing free software as opposed to the other kind, and in the specific case(the program being developed independently with a group contributing their time for free) I think the argument is accurate.
          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by liquidpele (663430) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:55PM (#8430184) Journal
            Well it depends. If your customers are home users, you arn't going to earn much in support because most home users don't want to pay extra for it.

            On the other hand, if your customers are corporate, a lot of companies even require support contracts, and they can affod a lot more in the way of service.

            Find your market, target it, and develope your software and business strategy accordingly.
        • A good mix (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:58AM (#8429392)
          The problem is when people start using words like "all." Does all software need to be free? Of course not. Does all software need to be proprietary? Again, of course not.

          Not only that, not all software that *this guy* writes has to be free. I definitely disagree with the article writer's assumption that "fame" won't get you a job - in CS, employers want porfolios, and working on Open Source is a great way to get that experience before someone will pay you.

          Second, even if one *has* a job, working for a free project is (in effect, or in the case of FSF, actually) charity work. I guess computer scientists are the only ones to donate their skills to a good cause? Because Doctors Without Borders doesn't do anything like that. And lawyers never do pro bono work right?

          As you say, I'm having a hard time seeing who loses - I've never heard of someone who does good work for a free project and can't parlay that into a job, and the output is (with the exception of anything GUI) top-notch.

        • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by alphakappa (687189) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:03PM (#8429455) Homepage
          "Stallman on one end and Gates on the other are both fanatics."

          Gates is not fanatical about all software being 'non-free'. Proprietary yes. Microsoft produces plenty of software that runs on Windows and OSX that's (surprise, surprise) actually free. As a company, it needs to make money, which is why it creates a base that has to be paid for (the OS), gives in plenty of free software to make it actually useful to the average user, and then also sells other tools that you have to pay for. If all software was free, there would be no software industry - there would be no programmers who could get paid enough at their jobs to have the time to create free tools for others. I love open source and Linux and use free software extensively at the University, but it's idiocy to be fanatical about open source as the only solution. (Reminds me of the evangelists who want to know if you have been 'saved' - no faith is true but the one they peddle).
          In a normal world, we would have free and proprietary software side by side. It would be much better for both, if they accept that the other side is just as important as themselves.
          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by dup_account (469516) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:37PM (#8429916)
            Again, assuming free as in gratis vs free as in open. Billy hates open. And the only reason he does gratis is to kill off something else, or control a market. I would have to say the way that MS is going after linux & opensource, that yes... he is fanatical about it. A zealot even.
          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Paladin128 (203968) <aaron@tra a s .org> on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:38PM (#8429937) Homepage
            Gates is not fanatical about all software being 'non-free'. Proprietary yes. Microsoft produces plenty of software that runs on Windows and OSX that's (surprise, surprise) actually free.

            Wrong definition of "free". When Stallman talks of "free", it has NOTHING to do with price. It's "free" as in "free speech" rather than "free beer".
          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:53PM (#8430155)

            Gates is not fanatical about all software being 'non-free'. Proprietary yes.

            I think you are confused. "Non-free" is the very meaning of "proprietary".

            Furthermore, Gates isn't fanatical about software being proprietary; Microsoft has released stuff under the GPL. You may be confused if you believe what Microsoft say in press releases, but you have to understand that this is not the truth. They say whatever will make them money - Microsoft is a business like any other in this respect.

            Microsoft produces plenty of software that runs on Windows and OSX that's (surprise, surprise) actually free.

            Oh, I see. You are talking about free as in beer. You are talking at cross-purposes to the rest of Slashdot then.

            If all software was free, there would be no software industry

            Of course there would. I'll give you an example.

            I run a web development agency. A lot of our websites run on Apache/PHP. Sometimes PHP only does 99% of what we need it to. So we fix up PHP to do what we want, and send in a patch.

            If we didn't send in the patch, we'd end up having to maintain our own special branch of PHP, which would be a waste of resources.

            Did I mention that we don't work for free?

            How about another example? IBM makes money from providing tailor-made solutions to people who really don't want to worry about building their networks and maintaining their systems themselves.

            IBM needs to provide a combination of hardware, software, and expertise. To get the software, they can either pay another company a lot of money, develop an operating system themselves, or use an existing, Free operating system as a base.

            It makes sense to use the third option, right? But that doesn't mean they have to contribute back. They could base it off FreeBSD and keep it closed-source. The only trouble is that if they want to keep up with FreeBSD (or whatever), they need to maintain their own special branch, same as us and PHP. It ends up being more trouble than it's worth. After all, why would IBM care about people copying their software - they aren't in the business of selling software, they are in the business of selling complete solutions.

            Of course, IBM need a good pool of expertise in the market to hre their employees from. If they keep their operating system locked up, where is that expertise going to come from? All their employees will have to be trained in-house, and there won't be a thriving development community around it in the way that there is around FreeBSD/Linux/etc.

            What you are saying is that if all software was Free, there wouldn't be much money to be made in licensing software. But there is still plenty of money to be made in developing software.

            it's idiocy to be fanatical about open source as the only solution.

            It's idocy to be fanatical about anything. But who's being fanatical? I see a letter aimed at trying to dissuade somebody from working on Free Software at all. That sounds like the person writing the letter is the fanatic.

          • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by rpresser (610529) <rpresser@g m a i l .com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @02:13PM (#8431310) Homepage
            Even given that you obviously meant free as in beer rather than speech ... nothing produced by Microsoft and given away for zero charge will run on anything except a Windows operating system. Providing napkins when you sell ice cream cones does not make you a paper products philanthropist.
        • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BinxBolling (121740) on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:18PM (#8430506)
          Does all software need to be proprietary? Again, of course not. Stallman on one end and Gates on the other are both fanatics. (It's a pity that we live in a society that categorizes the former as a fanatic but gives the latter a free pass, but that's a whole 'nother argument.)

          Has Gates ever actually come out and said that he thinks all software 'should' be proprietary? Maybe he's criticized free and open-source software on apparently pragmatic grounds, but that's not the same thing as pushing proprietary software as a moral imperative. So there is a qualitative difference between Gates and Stallman; They aren't the mirror images you seem to think.

      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gaijin99 (143693) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:48AM (#8429280) Journal
        Pah, both of the parties to this letter seem to have completely missed the point of FOSS. I suppose some idealistic idiots might have a vision of all software everywhere being free, but that's hardly the goal of FOSS. Its about freedom, not cost.

        I really doubt that we will ever see too many professional level games (for example) released under the GPL (though I have no doubt that older games will continue to release their code, as ID software did with Doom). HOWEVER that isn't really the point of the GPL. Stallman started it because he was prevented from improving his printer's performance by a combination of closed OS software, closed drivers, and NDA's. Operating Systems are a natural place for GPLed software, as are drivers (if anyone can add more value to a particular piece of hardware by improving its drivers it will help the hardware manufacturer sell more units; hardly something they'd be opposed to).

        OF COURSE people need to be able to put food on the table somehow, its not mentioned in the GPL because its assumed to be a given. Only the very foolish believe that somehow the GPL and propriatary software are in a titnaic battle from which only one will survive. The world needs both. As a programmer/hacker I want access to as much code as I can get. Code I can learn from, code I can use (why reinvent the wheel?), code I can modify. By releasing some of my code under the GPL I enrich myself by producing an environment where more code is available to me. By releasing some of my code propriatary I enrich my self with cash. I see no problem doing both.

        Will some propriatary software outfits either go out of business or shrink? Sure; that's hardly a catastrophy though. I personally suspect that the era of closed operating systems is drawing to an end, open source simply makes too much sense in that area. MS will probably be out of the operating system business in ten years (or at least severely weakened in the OS business). However I don't think MS will do belly up. Frankly their office package is quite nice, and were they to focus on that rather than wasting billions on their OS it'd be even better. Balance is the key here, as it is in so many areas.

      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Phillup (317168) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:49AM (#8429290)
        Well, perhaps when you are in your twenties it is about the free beer.

        But, for me... now that I just hit 40, it is about the free speach.

        Dollar for dollar, I'd go with the Open Source solution. For those that don't understand what I just said...

        I'd pay just as much for my Open Source software, more even, than I would for my Mac OSX or Windows software... which I also have and paid for.

        The most valueable part of my computing experience, by far, is the Open Source parts.
      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:56AM (#8429367)
        The paychecks come from all the "evil corporations" which are bashed so frequently here at /.
      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kmonsen (606584) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:04PM (#8429459) Homepage
        Two things:

        * You probability of getting a job is much better with a nice project on your resume. Before you start working, on open source project could open a lot of doors.

        * Some people do things to advance the society, medicine sans frontiers or red cross workers for example. Major contributions to open software is also helping since it opens the playing field for poor countries.

      • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RoLi (141856) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:25PM (#8429758)
        First of all, Software is not a business like any other. In software you have pretty much fixed costs, but revenue based on shipped units, which benefits the market leader. Even worse are compatibility problesm which punish all smaller players and again helps the market leader.

        So if you dominate a market, like Microsoft does with office suites, Adobe does with Photoshop or Macromedia does with Flash, you earn tons of cash. But if you don't, you can't earn much if anything at all. Effectively upstart software companies don't have any chance of succeeding in the retail market except when a new market opens. The only exception is games where new companies do seem to have a chance - mainly because compatibility between games isn't needed, so you can write a good game and be successful, but you can't write a good office suite and be successful - you would have to reverse-engineer data formats as well.

        However, the bulk of programmers don't work for Microsoft or Adobe. I know quite some programmers personally and none are working for MS or Adobe. All I know work either for small companies which program specialized systems for other companies or work in-house to also do such systems.

        So what does open-source replace? It replaces Microsoft, Adobe, etc. but can not and will not replace the "in-house" software programmer who creates customized programs for internal use (or for a single customer).

        So, frankly, I don't think that open-source will change that much after all. The big software companies like Microsoft and Adobe will go (or more likely change into investment companies), that's for sure, but there will be plenty of paid programming work (open source and closed source).

    • Linus (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:26AM (#8428998)
      Linus has a very nice car, and house 8)
    • by CynicTheHedgehog (261139) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:35AM (#8429121) Homepage
      The money comes from the fact that no matter how long a free or commercial software program is developed and maintained it absolutely will not fit all of the needs of any organization. Currently I work for a company that uses three large closed-source systems for order entry, provisioning, and billing. As configurable as these systems are, I spend all of my time writing applications that apply our business logic on top of them. I am forced to reads/write from the DB, apply custom triggers, rewrite their stored procedures, and in some cases edit or replace ASPX files to attain the integration needed. Not only is this time-consuming, risky, and often inconvenient for users (trigger errors don't often bubble up to the UI in a friendly way), it also violates all kinds of support licenses, which is whole the point of buying these large closed-source systems in the first place.

      Now, back in the day we used Tomcat and wrote most of our stuff in-house. We had a need to write a custom security layer for authentication/authorization against both LDAP and a windows domain controller. Nothing like that existed, so we wrote one ourselves using the Tomcat SecurityPrincipal interface and simply pluging in our extensions. Took a day, at most, to write and test, whereas we would have had to jump through hoops for weeks on an IIS system.

      That's where your money comes from. Taking what's already written and what nobody wants to write again and adding business-specific logic, and integrating it with other systems. One of our vendors has changed their business model. They make virtually nothing on software sales and support, but they survive on their consultancy business. IBM is also doing this, and you can see by Microsoft's latest ISV push that they recognize this trend as well.

      The question now is do I pay for closed-source software and lock myself into consultancy from that one vendor, or do I use an open source package as my base and pick and choose the talent that I bring in to improve and maintain it? If it were my business, I would choose the latter.
    • by flacco (324089) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:42AM (#8429208)
      I'll keep it short: What a fucking retard.

      Why, you could practically hear the cobwebs gathering around his wizened face as he thought aaaallll the way back through the hoary ages to - gasp - 1990, when he was a carefree 21 year old like the addressee. someone get this incredibly wise 35-year-old a wheelchair before he keels over.

      The good looking, intelligent girl over there at the bar that you'd really like to talk to doesn't care much whether you are famous amongst a group of geeks and neither does she even remotely fathom why you'd be famous for that stuff in the first place. I mean - get real here.

      well, that was particularly insulting. nothing quite like the threat of "no pussy!" to drive intelligent young programmers away from open source / free software.

      unprincipled windbag.

    • by Psyx (619571) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:42AM (#8429214)
      It's so very Ayn Rand.
    • by l0wland (463243) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnalw0l'> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:50AM (#8429301) Journal
      I thought the site came in pretty quick. If not, read Clemens' reaction to all the opposition.

      ---

      Free stuff vs. free stuff

      Of course my letter to Aiden is prompting some opposition. It may be worth noting that a very large proportion of the code that I write ends up being public and there's more stuff brewing as we speak. There is little need to educate me about giving. I am an educator. Sharing insight and therefore sharing manifestations of that insight in form of source code is my mission and part of my business. But this is not the business my clients are in and neither is it the business of most of the thousands of developers I am honored to speak for at conferences each year. Their business is about being paid for writing software. If they weren't paid, I wouldn't be paid. My job description is to figure out fundamental stuff and use my natural "understand very complex things thoroughly and rapidly" skill that I was luckily blessed with, so that I can explain those things to them and they can focus on solving customer problems. My free stuff helps my customers and is also playing a marketing role for me an my company. Our free stuff is a calculated investment. We can and do attach a number to it. dasBlog is a freebie for others but represents a significant investment that's worth several tens of thousands of Euros. It's not free, at all.

      We support a project that brings us some indirect value. However, we do not in any way force any code republishing requirements upon the folks who'd like to reuse our code (we have a strict "no GPL" policy; our code is BSD licensed). We don't depend on a community of volunteers to turn dasBlog into a dominant blogging tool that we can benefit from by commerically supporting it. We believe that if we wanted to benefit from the software directly, we would have to rearchitect and rebuild it (or at least restrict ourselves to newtelligence contributions) and then sell it as a fully supported commercial product. My personal sense of respect and fairness tells me that I will not and should not exploit the others guys that have contributed to the free version of dasBlog. It's their hobby and their work is their work. I think a company like Red Hat, which is a public company (which did yield a significant "going public benefit" to their founders) and is profiting from the work of countless unpaid volunteers and enthusiasts, is a very clever, but deeply unethical entity.

      I do believe in giving and I do believe that there is value for the community at large in sharing insight through source code. But we don't share the view that software is free or should be free. Someone pays for it. We have an investment in software that is free for others to use, MySQL has, HP has, IBM has, Sun has and - believe it or not - even Microsoft has. We do that as part of a well thought out and well understood business strategy.

      I understand open source. I do open source. I do so because I am aware of what it can and can not do for a company. I think I have a pretty good understanding on what's going on in this business. If it becomes the norm that the people providing outsourcing, system administration, hardware, and consulting make orders of magnitudes more money than the creative force, the software engineers and architects who are envisioning and building the foundation for this industry, something is stinking. And it stinks a lot already.

      Also, if you say that I am confusing "free software" and "open source". I am not. "Open" is the political argumentation line, "free" is the economic argumentation line of the same thing. If this sort of confusion exists for mostly everyone and one of the most often repeated line in OSS arguments is "you don't understand the difference", then that's caused by the simple fact that these terms are simply two angles of looking at the same story. The OSS "eco-system" only functions because both is true.

      Matthew, selfish is not the one who wants to get a tangible reward for his work. Selfish is the one who denies that reward.
    • by alx512 (194670) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:51AM (#8429306)
      If I may use myself as a counterpoint:

      First some background: I'm 28 years old, and dropped out of college my senior year because jobs were flying at me right and left.

      Any software I write on my own is for my own personal enjoyment and education, is GPL'd, and I would be tickled pink if other people found it useful enough to them to use it.

      As for the car, the house, the family? Because of my love for writing software, and willingness to keep honing my craft even during non-working hours, I am able to enjoy a 6 figure salary complete with loving wife, 2000 sq. foot home, and I own two brand new Lexus. Even in a down economy I am able to do this. Oh yeah, I also work for a non-profit org.

      What keeps me employed and employable? My knowledge and experience with open source software. There is only one piece of software I use at work that is not open source, and that is Oracle, which is not even in my core skillset. My knowledge of Linux, a large set of apache products, and several other open source packages, are more valuable to me careerwise than knowledge of Oracle.

      What do I consider the holy grail of my career? I asked James Duncan Davidson (Ant, Tomcat fame) at a local JUG meeting one time how authoring open source software has helped his career? He said that being able to put on his resume that he wrote Ant has given him the ability to just walk into any shop he wants and get a job. That is currently what I would like to accomplish. It may not ever happen, but that doesn't matter either. What does matter, is that I am enjoying life as it is, tinkering with free software even though it may never make me rich.

      I don't expect to become a millionaire from writing software. That kind of wealth will come from investing and smart business decisions. But, I hate business, and I love writing software, so I really don't care if I never become a millionaire, as long as I can still write software, I will be happy with my six figure income.

      As perhaps a stronger counterpoint, Bill Gates didn't become the richest man in the world from software. He became the richest man in the world by being a brilliant business man.
      • by TopherC (412335) on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:43PM (#8430854)
        Thanks, I was searching hard for an on-topic post and am glad to see yours. The question is: How can people make money while writing open-source code?

        I think the short answer is that programmers can be (and are being) paid for writing open source that satisfies the immediate and particular needs of the company they work for.

        The long answer is to compare two models of software and its place in our economy. One model is the proprietary code one, where there are two types of companies: one which produces software, and one which uses the software. In this model there is a strong distinction also between computer users and programmers.

        The other model is one where software is free, but programmers will be hired by companies to customize and extend software to meet their peculiar needs. This model tends to blur the distinction between programmers and users. Computers run programs, and so to use a computer is in some sense to program it.

        The second model is world where software tools are more effectively leveraged and more valuable. So libraries become more complete, languages more powerful, and programming becomes easier for everyone. Good documentation is also valued.

        The first model encourages building a higher barrier between users and programmers, so that the trade secrets needed to program are a commodity by themselves. That is the transparent mindset of the author of the letter. The attitude is that the knowledge of programming is one's net worth, and that giving it away by writing free code somehow lessens your worth.

        I think that the proprietary software model does not work as well in a free market economy, where competition is the driving force behind innovation. In this model, competition necessarily leads to duplication of effort. Also having multiple competing proprietary OSes or software suites will multiply the need for specialized knowledge, and thus divide the value if a programmer's training. For example, if a DB programmer was trained in using Microsoft Access, but not trained in the equally-popular Nanosoft Gain (tm), they would only qualify for half of the current job openings. This explains Microsoft's delusions of benevolence. By dominating the market, they think they are reducing duplicated efforts to compete aginst them, and increasing the value of MS-trained programmers. In the world where software is a commodity, software companies naturally gravitate toward a monopoly.

        Competition still thrives in the OS world, but software is not one of the trade commodities therein. Companies use software to help them be competetive with other goods or services.

        So for these reasons and many more, companies are beginning to realize the value in the open software model. This model requires a critical mass of free software for it to work well, but I think that in many areas we've reached that critical mass.

        Well, at least that's they way I see it. But I'm working in acedamia as a post-doc researcher, and don't have any comp-sci degrees. So I'm not experiencing any of this first-hand. But a lot of what I do is write (and use heavily) open-source code. My job requires that I be a good programmer, but that's not my profession. So naturally I support the OS model since it allows "amateur" programmers like me do my job. But my guesses about OS programming jobs in the industry is just from hearsay, so it's good to see other posts confirming it.
    • by Hoplite3 (671379) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:22PM (#8429711)
      Dear Newton,

      I think you remember the conversation we had recently at this university in Cambridge. You came up to me and told me how the math I was talking about was mostly useless, because it is a mystical secret where people need to be inducted into a secret soceity to use it and those who divulge it are killed. Unfortunately I don't have your letter, but I am sure this will reach you.

      First, I would like to thank you for the interesting conversation that developed and to make sure that none of what was said just fades away, I'll tell you here once again what I am thinking about what you do, what you think and - most importantly about your future.

      When I was young - like you now - I was also at university and was pursing a natural philosophy degree. Back then, I was very enthusiastic about mathematics as a humanitarian discipline. And thought that I was the best mathematician in the field has ever seen and everyone else was mostly worthless. And I did indeed derive some theorems that mattered and made a difference. The theory I spent some 3 years writing in algebra from when I was 18 was to solve a problem for my father's business. Because the business he's in requires a lot of interest calulations, he and my mother spent about 2-3 daily hours on average doing all of this stuff by hand. Using my theorem, that time went from 3 hours to about 15 minutes a day. That was math that absolutely improved the quality of life for the entire family! And his friends and colleagues loved it, too. I didn't sell many licenses at that time (I think I had 3 customers), but each one was worth 1500 Brittish Pounds and that was a huge heap of money for me. Where did the money go? I can't really remember where it all went, but I guess "lot of partying" or "Girls, Drugs and Minuettes" would be a reasonably good explanation. Hey, I was 21 and that's what one is supposed to do at that age, right?

      That was in 1640 - let's fast forward to 1669 and you. All math that you and your father could possibly be interested in has already been written. That's probably not true, but it's hard to think of something, right? Ok, the math may not be easy to understand with your notation and may cost money, but what you can immediately think of is likely there. So where do you put all your energy? Into this absolutely amazing free math project you co-coordinate. I mean, really, the stuff that you and your buddies are doing with derivatives is truly impressive. There are a couple of things I'd probably do differently in terms of notation, but it works well and that's mostly what matters.

      However, I start to wonder where your benefit is. You are - out of principle - not making any money out of this, because it is free and you and your buddies insist that it must be absolutely free. So you are putting all of that time and energy into this project for what? Fame? To found a career? Come on.

      In the end, Newton, it's your choice. Do you want to have a horse, a house and a family when you are 30? Do you love being a Natural Philosopher at the same time? If so, you literally need to get a life. Forget the dream about stuff being free and stop advocating it. It's idiocy. It's bigotry. If you want to put your skills to work and you need to support a family, your work and work results can't be free. Math is the immediate result and the manifestation of what your learned and what you know. How much is that worth? Nothing? Think again.

      With best wishes for your future

      Cardan
    • by mav[LAG] (31387) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:26PM (#8429772)
      ...another letter.

      Dear Aiden,
      I don't know you from a bar of soap but I'd like to encourage you in your efforts developing Free Software. I understand your antipathy towards Microsoft given its track record of mocking, attacking and undermining Free Software but don't waste your energy hating it. It is, as Professor Eben Moglen, counsel for the Free Software Foundation, said the other day, on the wrong side of the software movement. Rather continue to write, improve upon, distribute and enourage others to use Free Software. And don't think you aren't perfectly entitled to charge money for Free Software - I do it for a living and it earns me quite a lot of money.

      I'm not going to bore you with all the stupid Pascal stuff I did at your age, neither will I drivel on about making a few bucks from the odd software sale. What I will say is this: make sure you do something that you really enjoy for a living when you finally need to earn a living. Never take a job on the money alone. To spend most of your time doing something you hate just because the paycheck is good is soul-destroying. Using a job as a stepping stone is fine, but make sure you have a goal to do what you want. Don't worry if this process takes ten or fifteen years - you can still have lots of fun along the way while picking up experience. And there's at least one attractive woman out there who will love you for who you are, not how much you earn. You'll find her if you keep looking. Sometimes you'll find that she was there all the time - just that you didn't notice. Good luck.

      You sound like you have much enthusiasm for programming. That's great - and one day it might provide you with a steady income. Developing Free Software teaches you all sorts of good habits which will stand you in good stead in the real world: client expectations, deadlines, having to work with obnoxious idiots who are nonetheless brilliant coders, version control and a passion for elegance and cleanliness. Even if it doesn't and you do something else for a living, writing Free Software is a pleasant part-time addiction that can provide many happy hours - I hesitate to say relaxation - occupation for your mind.

      Free Software is not a myth or a lie: it is the largest single technical knowledge repository on the planet available to all who want at no charge. None of the code contained therein has been obtained by trickery or extortion. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of intelligent coders want what you want: to program cool stuff and share it with others. And they have done so. There is no food chain in Free Software. It is perfectly possible for a young University student like yourself to change the world given enough talent, hard work and help from like-minded people (you may have noticed this somewhere before).

      Like some other correspondents of yours, I also happen to know a few choice quotes about political systems. But since none of them shed any light whatsoever on the process of or motivation for writing Free Software, I will not waste your time with them.

      You will encounter opposition from many quarters. Some of this opposition will be from genuinely concerned but misguided people who want to deny reality, ignorant as they are about the 21st century, the market share of Apache or sendmail, and the difference between bits and atoms. Some will even call you stupid or a bigot. Don't worry. You will be proud one day to tell your grandchildren that you created a program that thousands of people - maybe even millions - used to improve their lives. Right now your skills and enthusiasm are of enormous worth to yourself and many others. Many people will appreciate it when you share and share alike. And that by itself is worth much more than choosing life, a career, or a fscking big television.

    • This is FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spitzak (4019) on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:09PM (#8430388) Homepage
      I write open source software, and it is LGPL'd and GPL'd. I am also employed writing closed-source software, which is actually based on my GPL'd software. That software is the FLTK toolkit. In case this joker wants to know, FLTK is NOT a big deal, it is not tiny, but it obviously will not take over the world and is a distant third (or fourth) to Qt and GTK and maybe even WxWindows in popularity.

      Still I derive extrodinary benefit from the GPL software. I have an extremely well-debugged toolkit that I can easily modify. I have also achieved a good deal of fame for this, just a search for my name will reveal that 90% of the citations are for FLTK or other toolkits, while my for-hire work for Digital Domain is hardly noticed at all. I fully expect FLTK to be very important if I need to change jobs. Every single person we have interviewed for a job here who has heard of me has heard of me because they used FLTK.

      In his followup letter this guy has the incredible lack of logic to say that programmers should not be selfish and then complain that he cannot use GPL code in his software. This is typical of somebody who just does not get it, or is purposely lying to get his own agenda across. The GPL is extremely selfish. I use it because it is the only way my code can be used and still belong to me. Anybody who does not understand this has not written open source code. Any anybody who complains both about the GPL and also complains about "poor programmers not getting paid" is a raving lunatic who should not be listened too.

      I am also disgusted by his "pick up girls in the bar" line. Really, do you think one of the programmers at Microsoft working on Word has any better luck picking up girls in the bar? Do you think the typical salary paid to a software engineer makes the slightest difference in this? If you do, you are pretty seriously deluded. It's the managers and money-makers who are able to do this, and in fact open source is one way to screw with them. And if you happen to be good-looking and have a nice personality then you might get the girls and they really do not care one bit whether you open-source your code or not.

  • not worth nothing (Score:5, Informative)

    by stonebeat.org (562495) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:18AM (#8428907) Homepage
    read this: Indirect Sale-Value Models [xml-dev.com] and Give Away the Recipe, Open a Restaurant [xml-dev.com]. Eirc Raymond tells you how to make money from OS/Free software.
  • by Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:19AM (#8428909)
    There are MANY ways to earn a living with free software.

    Once you write a successful application, you have book deals.

    OSS is a sure and quick way to show your prowess and become moderately famous overnight.

    And Most importantly, I haven't yet met a boss who could take free code and use it. No matter how free and open code is, there is still a job market for people who can use it, tailor it, and integrate it into a business.

    The list goes on. But as you can see. Writing OSS isn't throwing your time away.
    • by ivan256 (17499) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:54AM (#8429344)
      This is the biggest myth. The money you make working with free software isn't in *any* of the traditionaly talked about methods. A very tiny few people make money on books, and support is one of the crappiest low-paying jobs there is. Fame may get you a position at a big industry company that needs what you maintain, but there are a select few of these positions too.

      The money is in development, modification, and integration. I'm sitting here at work right now with 50 highly qualified engineers who are all well paid, and all work on free software. Since the day I graduated from college I've been doing well paid contract work on and with free software, and I was able to get the positions because I worked on free software for years. I was able to point my potential employers to successful programs that I had worked on, and as a result skipped the entire grind that this guy is talking about in his letter. I didn't have to spend 10 years after college proving my skills, because I already had. My title, salary, and responsibilities reflected that on day one.

      Sure, OSS and free software isn't going to make your microsoft options go up in value, but writing the software can bring in a paycheck. All the OSS developers I know had no trouble getting jobs, even during the last 2 years.
  • Eeeep. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Misch (158807) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:21AM (#8428928) Homepage
    The good looking, intelligent girl over there at the bar that you'd really like to talk to doesn't care much whether you are famous amongst a group of geeks and neither does she even remotely fathom why you'd be famous for that stuff in the first place.

    <Asok [unitedmedia.com]>It only hurts because it's true.</Asok>
  • by awol (98751) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:21AM (#8428930) Journal
    A guy who has already built his reputation and established his "above wage earning" credentials in the industry wants all those that have yet to acquire that valuable resource to stop trying, or at least to start earning wages and preserve the satus quo that has served him so well so far.

    Well unless the letter was a very elegant piece of irony (and I doubt it). He should STFU and help these young subversives bring down the pillars of the temple that has so elegantly enslaved us all. Ok that last bit is a little severe but it's pretty close.
  • Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mytec (686565) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:21AM (#8428931) Journal

    I'm on the fence with this issue. I see the side about earning a paycheck. I understand the rewards that go along with altruism. I understand the need for standards and most importantly open standards. But, we all need to make a paycheck. Plain and simple. Say for a moment free software does continue to be successful, even enormously successful over the next few years, what does the future look like to those thinking of entering the field at that time?

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IamTheRealMike (537420) * <mike@plan99.net> on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:00PM (#8429409) Homepage
      I'll try and answer that.

      I'm 19, and I'm lucky enough to (currently) be working part time for a well known free software company.

      I'm still at university, in fact, I'm in my first year. While I've never had a letter like this, my parents have of course raised the same issues. This is what I told them. Hopefully it will be of use to other young people in my situation.

      The fact is, that making money by selling software is hard. Damn hard. Even if you just work every day for a paycheque and go home at 5pm after you added a new feature to Photoshop, you're in the minority. Most programmers (I've seen statistics that say 80% but I have no idea how accurate that is) don't write software to sell, they write software to solve peoples problems.

      Let's review why writing software and selling it is hard, from the perspective of the guy who had the idea and is trying to capitalize on it rather than the 9-5 hired hand.

      Firstly, it's not just a matter of writing a program and sitting back while the cash rolls in. You are expected, at minimum, to release new versions every so often, have professional packaging, probably you will be required to support it and deal with the random problems people come to you with. This is not a short term commitment. Your software may be around and have users for years. In other words, selling software requires a considerable investment of effort and time.

      Market conditions in software are not favourable. Software competes on a global market - this isn't a grocery store you're running. If the guy on the other side of the planet has a better product for a better price, you are in direct competition with them. It's not even a case of better product better price often - you think you can write a better word processor than Word? Go for it. Just don't expect to sell more than a few copies even if it is better. Life isn't fair, and the "unfree market" especially so.

      No. Why would I want to work day after day on the same product, being a cog in the machine? I want to try for a better way.

      What I'm currently valued for is not what I've written, you see, but what I can write. When people hire me (and I've worked for quite a few well known companies by now), they are hiring my knowledge and expertise which I sell to them typically at an hourly or monthly rate.

      They purchase my skills because I can solve their problems. Ultimately this is what it's all about. One way programmers can solve peoples problems is by writing a product, setting up retail channels and then hoping that enough people have the same problem that they can strike it rich, but this is a high risk endevour and I'm not naturally somebody who likes high risk. I'd rather go to them directly (or in the case of one of the last jobs I did, went to a consortium of people), and solve their problem directly then move onto a different problem.

      This is how I intend to earn my living, and so far it's working out pretty nicely.

      Claiming that software has to be proprietary, that it has to be bought and sold as if it were a physical thing is a gross distortion of both economics and common sense. People tend to look at software as a machine, as a black box, and so it's natural to draw an analogy to a physical thing (hence copy protection) but really it's little more than a series of instructions for how to solve a problem.

      If you asked me, "How do I make a pasta bake?" would I write down a recipe for a pasta bake then sell it to you on the condition that you didn't give anybody else a copy? Would I try and sell that as a physical product? Of course not. Just phrasing it in english and writing it down doesn't make it a product. It's simply an encapsulation of knowledge.

      A better idea, if people ask you that often, is to teach people cooking, or alternatively become a chef, ie people pay you to excercise your skills (cooking) to solve their problem (hunger) and if you happen to invent new recipes and share them with fellow chefs at the same time then so what? Nobody loses.

  • wow.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by freerecords (750663) <slashdot@@@freerecords...org> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:23AM (#8428957) Homepage Journal
    This guy has certainly lost the plot. I am 17 years old, and I have been working on open source software for a while now. I would never consider closed source software as a preferred alternative to open source simply because once I have a program "out there" as it were, the program is going to be so improved vastly by people who have vastly more knowledge than me. There is always someone in the world who can do something that you did, better, and that's what OSS is, doesn't that guy get it? I think "Aidan" was actually talking about OSS rather than free per se software anyway. Just my 2 pence Tim
    • Re:wow.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by GoofyBoy (44399) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:43AM (#8429218) Journal
      >I am 17 years old, and I have been working on open source software for a while now. ...

      >the program is going to be so improved vastly by people who have vastly more knowledge than me. There is always someone in the world who can do something that you did, better

      I doubt that you have the ego required to become a programmer. When you start saying "I wrote better code when I was 17!" then will you TRUELY become a programmer like the rest of us.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:23AM (#8428959)
    ...Consider the consequences of writing software for free. "Software is the immediate result and the manifestation of what your learned and what you know. How much is that worth? Nothing? Think again."

    Applying this logic to the letter itself, offered for free (the horror!), an interesting conclusion is reached regarding its value.
  • by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:23AM (#8428972) Homepage
    My contribution is worth nothing compared to the vast resource open source gives me.

    Even for prolific contributers who have give millions of lines of code this probably holds true. Even for Linus Open Source code has returned the rest of an operating system, status, and one hell of a CV - arguably more than he has contributed.

    Even if my contribution of a few simple lines were enough to contribute to the downfall of the software market, then I consider the fact that I have to work in something other than programming (which I do) to be not a price but an indication that things are working well - the overall (knowlage) wealth of mankind is increasing so not so much heavy labour in software is required and energy can be focused elsewhere. That's what progress is all about.
  • by Erik Hensema (12898) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:25AM (#8428988) Homepage

    There are plenty of companies paying programmers good money to write free software. They want the software, and they believe that the quality of the software will increase by releasing the source. Or they believe they will sell more hardware when the software running on it is free. Or they sell support on the software they release.

    Nobody asks a programmer to work for free. The author of the letter thinks that releasing code for free equals not getting paid for writing it. Think again.

  • by rsidd (6328) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:25AM (#8428992)
    While the beginnings of the GNU project were altruistic (and BSD was government/university-funded), increasingly people find it useful to build on existing work in free software rather than re-implement everything from scratch. The GNU philosophy is that the more you can armtwist them into doing this with arcane licensing, the better. The BSD philosophy is that they'll return important changes to you anyway because it's easier to let you maintain it, while if they have valid reasons to keep it closed and commercial, why not? Both viewpoints seem to have worked fine so far and I don't see that changing.
  • by stripmarkup (629598) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:27AM (#8429013) Homepage
    There seems to be a lot of confusion between the concept of open source and free software. The fact that the source is visible to anyone does not imply that it can be used freely.

    Someone should put together a license (if it does not exist yet) that allows a corporation to use an open source software product only after paying a fee to the project owner (an individual, a group, a community, etc).
  • by wfberg (24378) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:27AM (#8429018)
    When you work as a programmer, you get paid by the hour, you don't get royalties. So you're better off if the software you're making and getting paid for by the hour is open source. If the company folds (as even closed source companies do) you're an expert on the stuff you wrote yourself, and you can hack it somewhere else. If your employer can't make an open source business model work, fair enough, but if you're looking for one, you might as well go with one that doesn't need that "limited time" monopoly advantage going for it to make a buck, relying instead on things like expertise, service, craftmanship, trustworthiness etc.
  • Day job (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultrabot (200914) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:28AM (#8429021)
    What if a given person already has a job?

    Most OSS developers are very talented (they wouldn't love what they are doing otherwise). They shouldn't have much problems landing a good job.

    Or does the old fart indeed think that a guy should found a business on a project they create during their studying days? Does he think that the guy doesn't have what it takes to get a day job, so he should grasp the first straw he can get, i.e. his OSS project.

    Getting bundled on a Linux distro is a bigger honor than most of us in OSS will ever get.
  • by nonmaskable (452595) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:28AM (#8429022)
    My answer is that the OSS movement is (mostly) commoditizing the "essential services" layer - much like the roads, sewers, and electrical grid that the broad economy needs to function. Only a *very* small percentage of IT industry jobs are building these things in propriatory products.

    The vast number of IT jobs is in customization, adaptation, etc. of software to solve business specific problems.

    In my case (R&D), the existance of OSS capabilities means that my corporate masters can spend vastly more on my labor to develop new solutions because they have saved (literally) millions of dollars on things like operating systems, compilers, databases, etc that I previously had to purchase.
  • by jmccarthy (228531) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:28AM (#8429026)
    But, to me, it's like chiding someone for working in the Peace Corps. Sure, you're not going to get rich or much recognition for it, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile thing to do.
  • by nsxdavid (254126) * <dw.play@net> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:30AM (#8429048) Homepage
    I'm a capitalist, I believe in making money from what I do. No question about it. The programming I do does not go for free. In fact, over the years I've been rather well compensated, especially in the good times.

    But when I was just getting started... when I was just a "young programmer" I wrote software and gave it away for free. This was long before the idea of GPL and such (AFAIK). My first big give-away success was FRPBBS, a piece of C64 BBS software that was unique in that it focused around running online roleplaying sessions. Those were the days!

    That part of my life was absolutely essential to what I do today. I know employ a goodly number of people and contribute to our economy. And I owe a lot of that to the early experiences, encouragement and sheer fun of being able to put my code "out there".

    Shall we do away with the Olympics because all endevors should yield an immediate profit? Small minds fail to graps the big picture yet again.
  • Lots of analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realnowhereman (263389) <andyparkinsNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:33AM (#8429082)
    I'd like to make an analogy (despite it being the weakest form of argument) to the concepts of power and energy from phsyics (although the same is true for many physical processes). As I'm sure everyone here knows: Energy in itself is not a lot of use; it only becomes useful when something is done with it, in the case of energy that can only be the changing of the energy from one form to another. i.e the flow of energy is the important thing (power being used to measure that)...

    Similarly with society: to a taxed economy, the total amount of cash available is less important than the amount of flow of cash - it is the flow that is taxed, and hence allows governments to do their (supposed) good works. Equally it is the flow of cash that causes anything to be done. (I build you a fence, you mend my car; if the cash exchanged is the same then nothing has changed other than we now have one fixed fence and one mended car)

    I think the same is going to become true of software. I have maintained for a long time that if the only thing you have that makes you valuable is your source code, then you are doomed. It is the ability to create the source code that has value; otherwise when something new is needed, there is no way to make it.

    If the idea of free software takes off, the software industry won't die, it will become like the legal profession (yuck ;-)): the owning of the books is not what gives a lawyer their value, it is their ability to use those books. The owning of source code will be unimportant, every company will find it useful to maintain an programmer's department in the same way that they find it useful to maintain an IT department.
  • by KamuSan (680564) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:33AM (#8429089) Journal
    Real life programming jobs stink. They're usually not that interesting, but just flat business apps without depth, but with time constraints, byzantine politics, incompetent project managers and bizarrely generic business requirements.

    So what do you do in your spare time? You work on your pet project, in which you can apply all the knowledge and nifty things you learned and/or you ever read about. And hey! It looks good on your resume too, because your real job doesn't give you the experience in those new technologies that your future employer/customer wants/needs.

    And besides, Open Source is good for everyone, because the guys who do use your stuff can concentrate on delivering value to their customers, ie. writing boring business apps that implement the functionality that their customer asks for in their bizarre and overly vague requirements. And they also save time, so they can meet the deadline that their horse ass project manager has set all on his own.

    Everyone wins with Open Source I think. It gives you the opportunity to start programming at a higher level of functionality.
    When it is called 'culture', everybody agrees that it's been a good thing for ages.

    PS. That's why software patents are bad. They block this culture, this incremental growth in knowledge.
  • by mfarver (43681) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:34AM (#8429106) Journal
    I think it is apparent that the writer has little familiarity with the free/open software environment. I would not be surprised to find that many of his views were formed by reading headlines or by the arguments of the unnamed youngster.

    The writer is correct from his point of view: if you are already employeed writing closed software for sale open/free software gives you no benefit. It competes for customers, and the free/open software developers do not necessarily get payment in return for their work.

    The truth is a little fuzzier: most software in this world is not written for commercial sale. It is written within companies to solve particular problems in support of business processes. If no commercial alternative exists, or if an external entity cannot create a custom product then a business creates their own. Since this development is a sunk cost, sharing it, and possibility benefiting from someone else's work has no negative effects on the bottom line.

    The other angle is this: as a purchaser of business software I look more favorably on open than closed software. With closed software the vendor controls me. The vendor can increase costs, withdraw support and make pretty much whatever demands he wants. With open software I have a escape clause... if my relationship with the vendor becomes negative, or I need a feature the vendor cannot/will not supply I can always take the source and find someone else to support me. If customers start demanding this option, closed vendors may not want to become open, but they may have to in order to compete. (Free/open products give control back to the consumer, a plus for the consumer, a minus for the producer)
  • Worth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SpamJunkie (557825) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:35AM (#8429113)
    This is the same issue that many scientists face, and I would guess many other fields. If you measure worth in money than there is less that can be said for giving your work away for free. While there are companies releasing their source for free while posting profits there are many more open source projects making no money and closed source companies making lots of money. If the two are mutually exclusive which matters more to you?

    In science there is the opportunity to work in an interesting field while working for a corporation. The problem is the work will become patent encumbered and proprietary as soon as it has any value. To let other people share in the success, and even improve upon it, something like a University grant is required for which the pay is lower.

    You do your best every day of your life, make major discoveries and solve complex problems, and then you die. If you work for a corporation it's likely that your work will remain the private property of that corporation long after you're dead, with most people associating your work with the company and not you. However, if you gave up potential money to share your work then it is more likely to live on with little chance that your work will be associated with anyone besides you. So, ecide which you find more compelling.
  • by httpdotcom (749192) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:36AM (#8429135)
    No one in OSS has ever made a living making free software. Those guys at Apache, Samba, and the ISC must be "giving handjobs for cash"* to sustain their miserable little lives. And I am sure that Linus is just squeking by on foodstamps and cat food. * obligatory South Park quote, so don't do drugs mmm-kay
  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Millennium (2451) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:38AM (#8429164) Homepage
    "Cut it out; you're threatening my business model".

    No, really; that's what it boils down to. Whether or not someone develops software for free or for money -a situation which is entirely independent of whether or not the source is open- is that person's own prerogative and no one else's.

    This guy's just mad because he can't compete on price and doesn't want to compete on features or support.
  • Missing a point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Walkiry (698192) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:42AM (#8429210) Homepage
    The people who contribute to those free OSS projects don't do that because they think it'd be neat if such and such software would exist for someone to use, in most cases (I can't say for sure "in all cases", blame me for being a scientist) they work in a project because that particular piece of software is something they want to use themselves.

    See, there's so much I can do on my own. But if I want something done, and by letting you use my code I'll get some of yours in exchange, I've actually gained something, I've gained the hours of work it'd have taken to add that code, correct my bugs, or whatever that other person who uses my code gives me. That's the heart of the GPL.

    If I have to put a value of n dollars per line of code, does that mean someone who sends me (or the public repository) y lines is actually giving me/us money? Is code worth a lot? Yes, that's why getting extra code on top of mine is a good value I get for releasing my software for free.
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:43AM (#8429224) Journal
    I know a lot of people who create software. Out of all of them, I think I am the only one who works on software that is sold on a cost-per copy basis.

    Most programmers write software used internally for highly specialised purposes, or a custom application targetted at a single customer. Most of these organisations make great use of free software, and many contribute their changes back to the community. Other people produce drivers - which are given away for free with hardware - and third party defence systems with a single customer willing to pay a lot of money.

    Added to this, most people are not willing to pay enough for software to make it worth marketing. His example of the software he wrote is an exception. Very rarely does software have a perceived value of several hundred dollars. Even if it does, it is often cheaper and easie to write it yourself. If people are going to do that, then you might as well give them a headstart.
  • Comparitively (Score:5, Interesting)

    by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrangeNO@SPAMalumni.uchicago.edu> on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:45AM (#8429243) Journal
    Compare this to the University of Chicago, whose CS department offers a course in Free Software Practicum, the goal of which is to develop free software or work on existing free software and have your changes added to the code tree. It's the work of Prof. O'Donnell.

    --Stephen
  • by Rahga (13479) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:45AM (#8429252) Homepage Journal
    Sorry, but in my case, it's true. I work for a small-ish "GIS company" that makes a name for itself by not being a traditional GIS company, but a knowledge company. We serve our customers by providing software that they need... but as I'm reminded all the time from the higher-ups, the value of the company is not really in the software, but in the employees. If all of the programmers suddenly disappeared, it would be practically impossible to replace them.

    That said, they also use a lot of free and open source software internally (esp. bugzilla and apache), and see no problems with employees giving back.
  • Practicality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boing (111813) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:49AM (#8429292)
    I really think that no one should be arguing with this guy unless they have been making a sustainable living writing and supporting Free/Open Source software. This means supporting a family in a reasonably nice environment, folks.

    I saw a post from some seventeen year old bragging about how he'd been working on open source stuff for a while, and isn't that just fine. But sorry, at seventeen you know so little that you don't even realize how little you know.

    Sure, we can all point to Linus and ESR and say "Hey, they've made it big, therefore the business model to which we aspire must be valid!"... It may be valid, but it's hardly useful to refer to anecdotal evidence in support of that point.

    So I reiterate - the only people I will personally listen to in this thread are people who can personally attest to living in the REAL world, and living REAL lives, entirely on Open Source dollars.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:09PM (#8429537) Homepage
    Greed is becoming an institution these days.

    What's odd is when you look at Linux, it's taking the IT industry by storm. And look at all the new jobs being created. Whole new industries popping up all over in implementation, support, in new distributions, embedded applications. It's not just a software product, it's an economy unto itself.

    I don't know how anyone makes the argument there's no money in FOSS. Whole industries exist because of free software.

  • by amightywind (691887) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:11PM (#8429561) Journal
    "Software is the immediate result and the manifestation of what your learned and what you know. How much is that worth? Nothing? Think again."

    Young Mr. Wiles. The mathematical theorem you proved is the immediate result and the manifestation of what you learned and what you know. How much is the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem worth? Nothing? Think again.

    Instead of publishing the result, I think you should keep it to yourself, charge all of the mathematicians who want to see it lots of money, and make them sign a non-disclosure agreement to promise not to use the result in their own work. Posterity will not be served, but you will be.

  • Not all software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bahwi (43111) <[incoming] [at] [josephguhlin.com]> on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:38PM (#8429942) Homepage
    Not all software has to be free. But there are a few good things that will come from his open source project:

    1) Experience.
    Seriously. Who would hire a fresh-out-of-college person with no real world experience? At least when they contribute to open source they have some real world experience. If the software gets big, even better. If it is some small piddly OSS project, well, at least you tried. You have guy A who goes off, does what he has to do to pass college, and goes party. You have guy B, who now has a masters, plus 6, 8, or 10 years of real-world programming experience. Who will you hire? Seriously. Don't get a life, it won't get you work. =)

    2) Hey, geeks know geeks. You apply for a job, you are the new "project manager" and have to keep several programmers working for you. You introduce yourself to you new team, say that you do this, you know this, and you've worked on this. Right there, you can get a good scoop of respect right there and get your work off to a great start.

    3) You could get a job supporting or expanding on whatever project you've been working on. Not likely a full time job, but perhaps a few extra bucks every now and then, eh?

    I think this guy is just scared that he soon will be outsourced. I think that because he has chosen to be a programmer, only one of the many things you can do with a CS degree, that he is very afraid that OSS programmers and OSS is taking away his work. Really, programming needs to be in two degrees, "basic" which is a 2 year degree, and advanced, which can be from 4 to 6 years. Programming is a commodity, it is a service industry. The more advanced things are program design(yes, I know, everyone complains about flowcharting it, UML, etc.. when they are in school, but when you gotta write that up and send it off to India, it matters, since it may be the only thing keeping you employed).

    I think people get programming confused with an advanced profession because it is so flexible. It can be extremely advanced, from writing compilers, to JITs, etc... There is so much theory out there. But really, it is just doing the same stuff over and over again slightly differently. Yes, there are different languages. No, they are not difficult to learn new ones. Once you know the basics of programming it all falls in pretty quickly. How much you actually use of what new stuff you learned is pretty low on the scale too.

    Whether you are writing enterprise apps(which has several methods, procedures, and theories on its own) or a quick one-off web app, it is basically the same stuff. I will say that enterprise apps require more discipline and knowledge than a quick one-off web app, but most of that can be learned in a month or two easily. Yes, univ's stretch it out by you only going to class two or three times a week for several months, and learning many other things while you are there. But if you focus, you can learn it all pretty quick.

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