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Businesses Software The Almighty Buck

Is It Good For Business To Subsidize OSS Developers? 124

Posted by Soulskill
from the riding-the-foss-money-train dept.
ruphus13 writes "A lot of developers for open source software have full-time day jobs too. As economist Milton Friedman said, 'The business of business is business.' So, does it make sense for companies to encourage their developers to contribute to the open source community? OStatic discusses a blog post by Alfresco exec Matt Asay, who makes the case for why they should. '"Companies like IBM, Intel, SGI, MIPS, Freescale, HP, etc. are all working to ensure that Linux runs well on their hardware. That, in turn, makes their offerings more attractive to Linux users, resulting in increased sales." While I don't think we'll ever see companies everywhere subsidizing employee development of open source tools, many tech and non-tech companies alike could benefit from subsidizing open source development from employees with talent. If more companies woke up to this idea, we'd see more purpose-driven, mission-critical open source software shared by firms in the same industries. That, ultimately, would benefit the companies providing the subsidies.' Should your employer pay you for time spent on open source development?" snydeq points out an Infoworld story suggesting that there's something to learn from the way French companies are promoting open-source development.
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Is It Good For Business To Subsidize OSS Developers?

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  • Define "Good" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:23AM (#24809125) Homepage

    Is it "good" to maintain and expand the upstream rain forest that provides your raw materials?

    It's not good for this week's balance sheet, but it's good if you think about it for five minutes.

    • by Chemisor (97276)

      Who wants to think?

      • Um, business owners who wish not to be competed out of existence by other business owners who think

    • Open Source is now used as a weapon in corporate competition.

      Why does IBM spend money to release Eclipse? To hurt Sun. (What does an Eclipse do to a Sun?) To make it more difficult for Sun to earn money off of Java. (You can commoditize something to prevent it from becoming your rival's money making product.) At the same time, the software is an economic complement [answers.com] to things that IBM sells. (All manner of middleware and corporate consulting, mostly the latter. A great IDE and other tools encourages m

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:23AM (#24809129)
    From FOSS, to nuclear power.
  • Yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:25AM (#24809137)
    Most businesses use at least one major OSS project, be it Linux, Apache, MySQL, or perhaps even an OSS language like Perl, Python or Ruby. And a lot of minor businesses lack a good programmer to fix bugs, so it should be natural for them to pay some OSS developers to fix a bug, or add in a new feature.
    • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:29AM (#24809541) Journal
      More importantly, most businesses don't make software. They either:
      1. Make things that use software, or
      2. Make things using software.

      Free Software has the convenient side effect for these businesses that it makes software not just a commodity, but a very cheap commodity. For businesses in the first category, that means people have more money to spend on their products. For businesses in the second category it means that they reduce their operating costs.

      This is exactly why Microsoft has tried to encourage something like a Free Software ecosystem around their products. MS Office is not Free Software, but it has a set of developer tools that allow your company to hire someone else to extend it in ways specific to your business needs. You then aren't locked in to a single supplier for these modifications (assuming you are sensible, and use a work-for-hire contract so you own the rights to them). You can do it in-house, or contract it out to one of a great many small companies. Free Software just broadens this idea. The more of your stack is Free Software, the less you rely on a single source, and the safer your business is.

      • by maxume (22995)

        Compared to professional labor working in an office environment, Vista+Office is already a cheap commodity.

        Free Software is doomed if it tries to compete on price (widespread perception is that MS Office is the best office software; Microsoft is making enormous profits and could still operate while charging much less); Free Software needs to compete on quality.

        Linux on servers, Apache, etc., back up this assertion.

        • Compared to professional labor working in an office environment, Vista+Office is already a cheap commodity.

          Wrong. A decent computer running Vista costs about $400 for a desktop and about $600 for a laptop. You can easily get the same or better performance out of a $250-300 desktop or a $400 laptop with Linux. Office Small Business costs $269 (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8182593&st=2007+office&type=product&id=1164154035835) for a license. So that leaves you with $669 for a desktop and $869 for a laptop. Are there some jobs that need Office? Yes. But for most businesses Open Offi

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by maxume (22995)

            A desktop+Vista+Office is going to last for about 3 years. So over 3 years, you save, say, $1,000 with Linux (this amount is preposterous). Over those same 3 years, if you are lucky, you will have paid the professional office worker about $150,000 in salary (with at least another $50,000 in overhead directly related to employing that person, and probably another $50,000 of overhead that is less directly related).

            So the computer costs, maybe, $2,000 over 3 years, and the person costs at least $250,000 over 3

            • But how much does a bug in MS Office cost you in lost productivity? Last time I used MS Office in a corporate environment there was a bug that caused it to crash and lose data that was triggered regularly by the in-house templating system. Every time I encountered it, I tended to lose around half a page of text. Possibly other people in the organisation were more used to it, so saved more often and only lost the time spent relaunching Office.

              What options did they have? They could try to work around the

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Paying an OSS developer to fix a bug or add a feature seems like it would be simple, but unfortunately it's not.

      First, most OSS projects work on a charity model. "You give us money, we work on whatever we feel like." You can ask for whatever feature or bugfix you want, but the devs won't work on it unless they want to. There's nothing wrong with that -- as I implied, most charities work in exactly this way -- but it means that there is literally no way, other than hiring the dev into your company directl

      • Paying an OSS developer to fix a bug or add a feature seems like it would be simple, but unfortunately it's not. First, most OSS projects work on a charity model. "You give us money, we work on whatever we feel like." You can ask for whatever feature or bugfix you want, but the devs won't work on it unless they want to. There's nothing wrong with that -- as I implied, most charities work in exactly this way -- but it means that there is literally no way, other than hiring the dev into your company directly, to get a specific feature or bugfix added to most OSS projects.

        Developer != project. Any programmer with a bit of knowledge of the sourcecode and how the program works should be able to do a simple bugfix on an OSS project. Just because you e-mailed RMS about a bugfix on Emacs and he declined the offer doesn't mean that Joe Programmer can't fix the bug.

        There are, of course, companies which form around OSS software specifically to do work-for-hire. The problem there is that the work they do for you typically ends up back in the OSS project. Logical enough: that is the way OSS is supposed to work, after all. But it removes any competitive advantage you have, and it's contrary to the way software contracting has traditionally worked (where the company to whom the programmers are contracted will usually have the rights for the software).

        Unless you make software, software should not give you any more of an advantage. The product you sell and the employees you hire should give you the advantage, yes, upgrading your desktops will give you a possible pr

        • by Whitemice (139408)

          Unless you make software, software should not give you any more of an advantage. The product you sell and the employees you hire should give you the advantage, yes, upgrading your desktops will give you a possible productivity boost, but for most businesses technology should stay in the background.

          I couldn't agree more. Bringing technology into the foreground enables innovation and [potentially] massive improvements in efficiency and methods. I go to lots of IT conferences where speakers say over and over that IT is now a commodity - they're just wrong. Through IT companies can do allot to help their competitiveness - but not if they keep technology in the background.

          If I am at a restaurant, I am going to go to wherever has fast service, and cheap and decent food. If having a new cash register helps them do that fine. If having a new server helps them do that, fine. But the main object for them is to sell the most food to make the most money, that is what gives them a competitive advantage, not a new server.

          This isn't a realistic example. Most businesses, and certainly that businesses that sell products or services to other businesses,

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      My business did this just the other day (we ran into a nasty bug in Perl which was inducing fun memory leaks). Paid a guy $500ish (practically nothing!) to get it fixed a few months faster than it would have normally gotten fixed so we could drop a nicer version in one of our upcoming release. It worked out fairly well for us.
  • by dash2 (155223) <.davidhughjones. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:30AM (#24809175) Homepage Journal

    Why would a business pay for software that benefits everybody else? Why not just wait for someone else to do it?

    There are answers to this question - e.g. IBM or Google is big enough and uses Linux enough that it needs to make the fixes just for its own benefit; pushing them upstream is not much extra work. Or, companies in long-term relationships - e.g. in the Silicon Valley ecosystem - can encourage each other to contribute to public goods like OSS via a "reputation mechanism" - contributors get respect and this translates into better relationships.

    But the CAP is the fundamental issue.

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:39AM (#24809219) Homepage Journal

      This attitude that business is being charitable to open source when they push changes upstream is just, well, ignorant.

      They push their changes upstream because they don't want to have to keep merging them in every time a new version comes out. If they didn't push them upstream they'd either have to weigh down their development team with annoying merging duties or they'd have to stick with outdated versions of the software.

      The fact that they can push stuff that possibly is completely useless to everyone else upstream and have it accepted as part of the build is one of the wonders of open source.. and, if anything, it's the upstream developers who are being charitable.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:49AM (#24809659) Homepage

        Well, yes and no. Simple bugfixes are obviously best to push upstream, the bigger question is added/customized functionality which really adds value. At some point the value of having exclusive functionality exceeds the merge costs, depending on a boatload of factors ranging from interface complexity and stability, business value, use by competitors, specificness of the issue solved and so on. Very many companies are afraid to give away anything of value or just don't rationally calculate what it costs them to maintain it themselves, so they'd rather keep it inhouse instead even if they rationally should have open source it. But it's too drastic to go to the other extreme and say that open sourcing code isn't being charitable.

        • by mdfst13 (664665)

          At some point the value of having exclusive functionality exceeds the merge costs, depending on a boatload of factors ranging from interface complexity and stability, business value, use by competitors, specificness of the issue solved and so on.

          In the short term, that can certainly be true. However, what happens when you merge it for the fourth, tenth, etc. time? Especially as the merge tends to get more difficult over time. Also, note that the more work it is to add the functionality, then the more work it is to merge the functionality.

          Another issue is that if the functionality is actually useful to someone else, someone will probably eventually upload it to the project in some form. If your company does this, then your upgrade path is usuall

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Xtifr (1323)

            One thing you left out (or, at least, under-emphasized): if you push your changes back upstream, then you're no longer the sole maintainer of your fork, and others likely (almost certainly) can and will help maintain and enhance and fix the bugs. That's always a big win.

            The flip side of this (something I've actually encountered) is when your add-ons are so specific to your particular company that upstream isn't interested in accepting your patches.

            I've gotten paid, here-and-there, to send patches upstream

      • I just started an open source project at work. My reasons are:
        1. To learn about the technology
        2. To make tools that make the data we sell more readily accessible and usable
        3. To use the tools I make in my own work
        4. To help advertise our company (through source code) to people who may not otherwise consider buying our data

        I think my reasons all help my company.

        The part of my contribution that doesn't is pissing off our larger software partners, like Oracle, by making and promoting free products that are in competi

    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:32AM (#24809565) Homepage Journal

      Why would a business pay for software that benefits everybody else? Why not just wait for someone else to do it?

      To scratch an itch. My company needed a fast way to convert FoxPro files to PostgreSQL [honeypot.net], so I wrote one. Now, we're not in the database format conversion business, so this isn't something our competitors would be waiting to pounce on. Why on Earth would we want to keep it locked up? I've already gotten bug reports and feature requests that made it work better for us, so we actually came out ahead by giving it away.

      Honestly, especially for projects outside a company's direct business plan, I can't think of a single reason not to subsidize FOSS. You needed it and were going to write it anyway, right?

      • by Whitemice (139408)

        To scratch an itch. My company needed a fast way to convert FoxPro files to PostgreSQL [honeypot.net], so I wrote one. Now, we're not in the database format conversion business, so this isn't something our competitors would be waiting to pounce on. Why on Earth would we want to keep it locked up? I've already gotten bug reports and feature requests that made it work better for us, so we actually came out ahead by giving it away.

        Honestly, especially for projects outside a company's direct business plan, I can't think of a single reason not to subsidize FOSS. You needed it and were going to write it anyway, right?

        Exactly. I contribute patches to a couple of Open Source projects. My primary employer uses those packages but they don't relate to our line of business - they are general purpose. Improvements in those packages just allow us to build on more functionality that does relate the primary line of business. Hiding them doesn't have value, it is even bad. A project with new and better features will attract more users who will potentially contribute to the project.... and we'll probably consome those featur

    • Great point. CAP, of course, is one of the classic market failures.

      An analogy is industry lobbying. When (to take an unpopular example) oil companies lobby for subsidies and tax breaks, the resulting legislation not only benefits them, but also all of their industry competitors. Often in practice the Exxon-Mobils of the world pull the laboring oars while the smaller companies get to freeload. But a more common scenario is the establishment of industry associations, supported by a wide number of players,
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Penguinisto (415985)

      In at least one case I can think of, no one else will do it. My soon-to-be-former hardware-based employer is a great example (I got a better offer, and went for it). The folks I'm about to leave behind uses Linux very, very heavily. Their entire software backend to the product is written with (and for) Linux.

      Linux made perfect sense for them since they're selling hardware, Linux/FOSS means it won't cost a mint to license out, and it means a HUGE amount of flexibility for the programmers.

      ...so it's not just

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dvice_null (981029)

      > Why would a business pay for software that benefits everybody else?

      If they do that, they will

      a) They will look better in the eyes of open source community. And trust me, you want this, because we are usually those who tell others what they should buy.

      b) They become more attractive employer to those who are most talented. Like me ;) . I would love to work for an open source project and I'm not alone.

      c) They usually benefit from it directly also. For example if it is a text editor they decide to support,

      • by nstlgc (945418)
        Talking about unwarranted self importance, LOL. This is what happens when teens try to interpret business scenarios.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Why would a business pay for software that benefits everybody else? Why not just wait for someone else to do it?

      Depends on the product.

      For silicon manufacturers (Intel, Marvell, Freescale, TI, etc), there is a benefit to investing in OSS development - it helps them sell more chips. Some manufacturesrs, Marvell and Freescale in particular, require NDAs in order to develop software. (For Marvell, this is particularly funny, since the PXA25x, PXA27x CPU manuals used to be available freely via Intel's site, but

  • It comes down to the companies controlling officers opinion of the companies' needs.

    On one hand, I see no motivation for small to midsized businesses to contribute to open source applications, especially those that don't relate to the business' operating needs. Each business' business model and methods are distinct enough that most software is completely proprietary, or a proprietary implementation of a base package.

    On the other hand, public relations is sometimes given more consideration. Contributing t

  • evidence free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dash2 (155223) <.davidhughjones. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:35AM (#24809203) Homepage Journal

    Wow, that article on the French is an evidence-free zone. The only actual French OSS project they mention is some middleware doodah that I've never even heard of. Trying to think of some myself... um:

    1. Mandrake
    2. ...er ...
    3. ... that's it.

    I'm sure there are others but none springs to mind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yetihehe (971185)
      Spip. One of the worst cms out there. And all it's code is in french, so nobody else outside France can make too much of it.
    • http://glpi-project.org/ [glpi-project.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by erlehmann (1045500)
      AFAIK, VLC is of French origin.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Free.fr, a French ISP, is a big supporter of Free Software. They host a lot of the FSF sites and also GNA.org, for non-GNU projects (we use them). You may have noticed some other projects developed by French people and hosted on free.fr. The ones that spring immediately to mind are FFMPEG, VLC, and QEMU.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Free.fr actually ships you a minimalistic linux box as modem; it streams the VOD through vlc, can record shows on it's hdd, and they even encourage you to hack it. I'd say that's pretty awesome, even without comparing prices or snooping practices with US ISPs...

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well it's certainly being talked about:
      here [techworld.com]
      here [infoworld.com]
      here [linux.com]
      and here [edemocracy-forum.com]

    • Wow, that article on the French is an evidence-free zone. The only actual French OSS project they mention is some middleware doodah that I've never even heard of. Trying to think of some myself... um:

      1. Mandrake
      2. ...er ...
      3. ... that's it.

      I'm sure there are others but none springs to mind.

      Actually it's Mandriva. Using Mandrake is no more allowed, because of Mandrake the magician ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandriva_Linux#Name_changes [wikipedia.org] )

      Well Mandriva is just an example of software tagged "Fre

  • by dfetter (2035)

    It's silly to put basic research and (more generally) the development and maintenance of public goods in the hands of public companies because their motivations are not even vaguely in that ballpark. "The market" isn't good at providing the things that make markets possible, as the years since Reagan took office have shown. Markets are powerful tools for optimizing certain kinds of behavior, but they are not self-hosting.

    If we as a society don't spend that money on basic research and other public goods li

  • It's inherent in successful FOSS projects that they work with their users, and when these users are businesses, it's usually win-win for the businesses to invest something in the projects they depend on.

    * they pay anyhow, and it's better to pay as partners than clients.
    * their engineers get to learn the insides of the product and so are able to reduce the risks of using it.
    * they can get their business needs incorporated into the product.
    * they give their engineers a way to enjoy their work more.
    * they get

  • lost opportunity (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The path that budding developers take is infinitely more accessible (and far less expensive) via open source. If you lose the foresight of funding that community you risk intellectual hoarding and corporate driven (read "heavily manipulated") R&D that is self serving and beleaguered with protection, IP, DRM, and general monetary ballast that ultimately imprisons creativity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:57AM (#24809323)

    F/OSS means that you don't have to buy or write an operating system just to run a single program on a single device, or write an OS for a new piece of equipment from scratch. It means you don't have to come up with a proprietary database when you're not sure the bigger project will pan out. It means that you can support standards and undermine format monopolies, allowing you to bring your product to market despite an 800lb gorilla.

    "The business of business is business" doesn't mean that short-term gain trumps long-term. It means that business, in a market economy, seeks advantages where it can find them. Having a large base of reliable free software is a big enough advantage for some companies that they happily underwrite its development.

    • Having a large base of reliable free software is a big enough advantage for some companies that they happily underwrite its development.

      It is only an advantage if you can keep your competitors from using it too; othewrise it is just a cost of doing business.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Gazzonyx (982402)
        Unless your competitors use it and have their own changes that they want to make and push up stream, which benefits you as well as them. Everyone is scratching itches, and most of us have overlapping itches and not enough fingers to scratch with.
      • by k8to (9046)

        It may not be an advantage compared to your direct competitors, but it may well grow your market overall.

  • Yes, but ... GPL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ehartwell (615432)

    The company I work for would love to subsidize open source development. We'd all love to use and extend existing projects instead of writing code from scratch. But recently I spent a couple of weeks writing a proprietary communications package when there's already perfectly good code on SourceForge.

    Why? The OSS project uses the GPL. This means if the company donates two weeks of my time to subsidize this OSS project, it ends up losing ownership of the rest or our application. That would cost the company *a

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by erlehmann (1045500)
      So you want to build upon others work, but not wish anyone to build upon yours ? The GPL was designed to protect against such greedy behaviour - which btw is a pragmatic decision, not a religious one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ash-Fox (726320)

      Whenever I start a new project I always look for existing solutions for my company to subsidize. LGPL, Apache, and the rest are fine, and that's why there's so much commercial support for those projects.

      I've seen plenty of commercial support for GPL projects too. KDE, Gnome, Koffice, Pidgin, Yast, Mono etc.

      It's just to damn bad there's so much GPL.

      In certain circumstances (proprietary libraries that disallow us redistributing the source, both licensing completely conflicting with each other, preventing us f

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Draek (916851)

      Free Software isn't a religion, but it's not a charity either.

    • by aniefer (910494)
      This problem is exactly the reason there are alternatives like the Eclipse Public License [eclipse.org]. Google has recently announced [blogspot.com] that they are adding the EPL as a license option for Google Code.
    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:16AM (#24809883) Homepage Journal

      Why? The OSS project uses the GPL. This means if the company donates two weeks of my time to subsidize this OSS project, it ends up losing ownership of the rest or our application. That would cost the company *a lot* more than wasting time rewriting existing code.

      First, you still own your application. It's copyrighted to you. You own it. Second, is the app one your plan on distributing? If not, then the GPL is moot.

      It's just to damn bad there's so much GPL. Let's get the religion out of software development.

      The GPL keeps you from taking my code and locking it up in some proprietary application where I won't get to use it. You seem to be under the unsupported belief that I should let you.

      • The GPL keeps you from taking my code and locking it up in some proprietary application where I won't get to use it. You seem to be under the unsupported belief that I should let you.

        How exactly can you lock up code? The code will still be distributable no matter how many proprietary projects use it. The real question is, "should we allow companies (or anyone) to profit from code without giving something back?"

      • The GPL keeps you from taking my code and locking it up in some proprietary application where I won't get to use it.

        So the existence of these proprietary postgres-derived databases [postgresql.org] means that you don't get to use postgres because its code is now "locked up"?

        • So the existence of these proprietary postgres-derived databases means that you don't get to use postgres because its code is now "locked up"?

          No. It means that I don't get to use the modified, enhanced derivatives that are tucked away where no one can get at them. Still, that's the choice of the PostgreSQL developers. They chose a license that explicitly allowed that, as is their right. The post I replied to was complaining that GPL-using authors did not make the same choice.

    • by wrook (134116)

      Let me turn it around a bit to see if it makes it easier to understand why developers choose the GPL over other, less restrictive licenses.

      I have recently started writing a free software game. It will have a 3d isometric view. I will spend several weeks writing a free software graphics engine where there is already perfectly good code in proprietary programs. (Well, actually, there is probably already a free software one I can use, but let's say there isn't)

      Why? The proprietary programs use their own lic

      • Using GPLv2, you also lose from license incompatibilities, since it's incompatible with the MPL, ASL, and CDDL (to name a few examples). One example of this that I've come across is the fact that we were unable to use PopplerKit (based on Poppler, based on xpdf, GPLv2) with LuceneKit (based on Apache Lucene, ASL), meaning we can't add full-text indexing to a PDF viewer without either replacing the PDF renderer or replacing the full-text indexer.

        This is why I prefer MIT or BSD licenses for my own work. I

    • Re:Yes, but ... GPL (Score:4, Informative)

      by nick.ian.k (987094) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @12:54PM (#24811449)

      This means if the company donates two weeks of my time to subsidize this OSS project, it ends up losing ownership of the rest or our application.

      No it doesn't. You (or your company) seem to be confusing copyright ownership with source code distribution. You don't relinquish copyright ownership of code you wrote by incorporating GPL'd code into your application, you're just required to make your source available if you're distributing it with the stuff you didn't write. Don't like it? Sorry, that's what the author of the code you got for and investment of $0 decided upon when they chose to distribute what they wrote --and own.

      • by ehartwell (615432)
        >> You don't relinquish copyright ownership of code you wrote by incorporating GPL'd code into your application, you're just required to make your source available.

        You're right. The company still keeps full copyright ownership of the proprietary code. What I should have said is that the company also loses control over millions of dollars worth of R&D that went into developing the rest of the application, and, by publishing it, loses any competitive advantage it may have had.

        That, of course, is th

        • You're right. The company still keeps full copyright ownership of the proprietary code. What I should have said is that the company also loses control over millions of dollars worth of R&D that went into developing the rest of the application, and, by publishing it, loses any competitive advantage it may have had.

          That's entirely dependent upon the business model. If you're looking at a traditional "we make money by selling a license and a pre-compiled binary with mysterious voodoo code contained there

  • ...support open source development is that of helping to advance the technology of the human race and benefits of in all the ways it can.
    And at the rate that open source can do above and beyond the false constraints of proprietary software.

    See more info [mit.edu]

    The above contents at url has broken links and some outdated info but the general scope is still valid.
    The paper only report "hirts_report1.0.pdf" address the failure, of autocoding to identify incompatibility inspired by closed source profit motives. Softwar

  • I'm surprised nobody has yet pointed out that contributing to OSS is likely to lead to a direct increase in developer skillset.

  • and let me tell you why - its basically no different than government subsidizing industries that are desperately needed by countries.

    and in open source, you dont want to supply a constant subsidy either, there are other sources also donating to that project. so its like an installment plan.

    you basically encourage and contribute to the development of a software you need or you probably will need.

    its democracy at its finest - open contribution from all. how much a software is needed by people, market
  • No surprises (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214)

    A company whose livelihood is open source proposes that other businesses should subsidize open source... That's kinda like asking the RIAA and MPAA to sponsor a study on piracy.

  • It's not a subsidy; it's paid support. Do you want to pay the person you know, or the person assigned to ignore your bug-report/feature- request. If I contribute on behalf of a client, the client doesn't have to maintain a fork. I compete on knowledge and service, not secret incantations.
  • by anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:04AM (#24809789) Journal

    Open source is really about users taken responsibility and control for mission critical applications. Government is just a big user, like a big bank, an insurance company, or film production company. They have internal needs. All organizations need to look at their internal needs and skills and contribute effectively, where it is of direct benefit to them. When the benefit is big enough, they pay someone to work on a project directly, if not, they don't. Sometimes it is only part time, and the level of expertise is only for QA, patches, and the like. That's fine!

    The major Apache contributors at the outset were all firms whose survival depended on having an effective web server. The business case for working on apache was compelling for all involved. Other contributions should be similarly compelling.

    The flip side of yesterday's story on Quebec sole sourcing (avoiding all responsibility of any kind, and just following 'the market'), is national funding of software distributions (taking total responsibility to the point of re-inventing the wheel) Neither approach is going to work best in the long run. Large organizations funding what they need, is just the corporate analogy of individuals scratching their itch.
    blog post about that: http://csptrn.blogspot.com/2007/03/national-use-of-open-source.html [blogspot.com]

    Logiciel Libre is Big in France.

    In France, that's what they do, on a massive scale. Example: the French Fisc (like the US. Internal Revenue Service) replaced their almost all Oracle all the time solutions by making an RFP (Request for Proposal) with specific performance tests for a J2EE platform. All the biggies were invited (Oracle, IBM, BEA, etc...) but the fastest implementation was by a small local firm using open source tools.

    reference:
    http://www.cllap.qc.ca/2006/modules/wfdownloads/singlefile.php?lid=48 [cllap.qc.ca] duh... it's in French...
    They don't care if you can't read it, their in it for their own good.

    The fisc saved a ton of money by doing a competitive procurement. The winning company is local, and developing expertise among people who pay taxes, and drive the economy.

    Another useful initiative in France with OSS is
    http://adullact.org/ [adullact.org] where people from a bunch of different local governments work together and fund and adopt common integrations of OSS technologies for specific vertical uses. Each local government reduces their costs by partially funding the common solution. Each gets a say in requirements and functionality delivered. None is stuck shouldering the whole burden.

    It is not about creating new software projects. There are thousands of those, and almost all needs can be met by integration/consultation of existing software, because, frankly, not a lot of government needs are that complicated. People just have to have a mind set that they are responsible for the technological choices they make, and get educated about long term implications.

    On a given government procurement, the traditional decision is 'buy vs. build' that is an obsolete decision, it is more like 'buy vs. assemble' or 'buy vs. contribute' or 'buy vs. cultivate (local talent)' today. The costs are looked at on over the duration of a procurement, not on a life cycle basis.

    For example, if you take open office, and you say it will cost 4 years to make the transition, that's true. the requirement for the functionality is not going away, so in five years, assuming the transition was taken care of, when you have to renew your MS license, ooo is going to cost close to zilch. That's when they pay back starts.

    Government needs to look at things rationally over the long term. the only thing on the side of the traditional vendors is perceived level of risk and market share. As the number of adopters increases, both of those aspects are declining.

  • Should your employer pay you for time spent on open source development?

    Thats not my decision to make, my employer can do whatever they wish with what I produce as a coder (or designer, or....) as I'm producing it for them. They tell me what to do, and so long as its within my ethics ranges, I do it - if they wish to then put my work out into the wild through some open source scheme, thats entirely up to them.

    • I feel a little sorry for you actually. It sounds like you've pretty much accepted that you have no say in your workplace at all. You say that "they tell me what to do, and so long as its within my ethics ranges, I do it". I myself am just a "lowly programmer", but I get invited to every meeting to discuss the future of our projects, get to give my input, and am often listened to. If I suggest we go with an open source approach on a project, there's a good chance it'll happen (unless there's a compellin

      • On the contrary, I have significant say in my employers business - my current position allows me to work on what projects I wish, I have purchasing authority and I have decision making authority within the scope of my job.

        But its still not my place to decide what my employer does with my output, so the question the summary presented is one I refuse to answer because it is not my decision to make.
        • On the contrary, this is exactly the decision you are faced with. Which provides your company with the best value:
          1. Purchasing proprietary software.
          2. Purchasing supported Free Software.
          3. Downloading Free Software and maintaining a branch in-house.
          4. Downloading Free Software and submitting your changes upstream for someone else to maintain.

          Without knowing the specifics of your industry, I can't tell you the answer to this, but from what you've said your company is paying you to answer it for them.

  • See, I do something 3Dish, it is open source (or will be when i revive my 5 year old sourceforge project and do the initial commit). So just gimme my paycheck.
  • If a company like M$ destroys your market - you destroy theirs by offering their product for free. As this is not legal, you support somebody else who does. Economics of supporting FOSS explained in a capitalist market! Second: I would love to see a modified GPL which limits the use of SW it covers to non-commercial use but allows companies who contribute ( according to some key/function etc..) to include it in their products/use it for their commercial purposes.
    • I would love to see a modified GPL which limits the use of SW it covers to non-commercial use but allows companies who contribute ( according to some key/function etc..) to include it in their products/use it for their commercial purposes.

      You can do whatever you want. There's no copyright on the GPL, and you may modify it however you want. However, I would be careful about losing the concept of "free" software to some anti-corporatist ideology.

      • There's no copyright on the GPL, and you may modify it however you want.

        Not true. The text of the GPL is copyrighted, and owned by the Free Software Foundation. Derived works are expressly not allowed by the copyright notice on the license (v2 has an identical notice with a different year):

        Copyright © 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. <http://fsf.org/>
        Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

        I've stopped being surprised by people who comment on the GPL without having the slightest clue what it says in the license, but not even knowing the conditions for using the license is a new low even by Slashdot standards.

  • Not everyone's motivated by money. Once the basic needs have been met, some like an intellectual challenge - or to feel that they have made something, or contributed to some cause or other.

    Normally, companies can't meet these different needs: and extra money doesn't help retain the kind of staff who would want to work on OSS projects. So as a cheap and efficient way of retaining people they value, why not let them work on their own projects - so long as it doesn't interfere with the business of business?

  • Better Question (Score:2, Insightful)

    by qb001 (917627)
    How about asking the question: "Is it good for business to fund applied and theoretical research and development?"
    Easy call in my mind.
  • In my experience, the support works both ways. What I want, and enjoy, is the community of development.

    When I need help with a particular project, say printing barcodes, the OSS community allows me to incorporate features into my code that I'd otherwise have to spend a lot of $ to get. The ability to extract source code to streamline the process for my users makes for an easier to use system.

    Any code changes that I make that improve functionality or fixes bugs, I return to the project. (I guess that 2/3

  • by dubl-u (51156) * <[2523987012] [at] [pota.to]> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @12:38PM (#24811305)

    On a number of occasions I have hired people who actively participate in OSS projects. Here's why:

    • It lets me look at their code,
    • It (usually) lets me see something about how they work with others,
    • Most of the people who do it are very community- or team-minded,
    • It lets me know that they really like programming, and aren't just clock-punchers, and
    • It gives them experience with the full product development and release cycle.

    And they get bonus points if they have done the work in some area that relates to the work I'm paying them to do, even if we don't use their package. Why? Because it means they've been thinking very hard about the problem.

  • by srowen (206154) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @02:10PM (#24812149)

    I am from Google and co-operate the "zxing" open-source barcode reader project. (http://code.google.com/p/zxing) Two of us were allowed to devote most of our time for 6 months to this open project, because it made strategic sense for the business.

    Why? To be brief, 2D barcodes open up new possibilities for advertising services in print. Our Print Ads business wanted to build services around them. However the market is still developing and while there are some dominant open standards evolving, there are several proprietary formats emerging. We thought it best -- both for the ecosystem but also for our business -- if the open standards won. So we explicitly set out to promote them, and one way of doing that is to release free, open, quality software that uses the open standards.

    Contributing to open source can definitely be strategically valuable.

  • Sure they should: you reap what you sow.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik

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