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Linux Business IT

Should Enterprise IT Give Back To Open Source? 312

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hey-wait-i'm-a-leech dept.
snydeq writes "InfoWorld reports on the fight over open source 'leeches' — companies that use open source technology but don't give back to the open source community. While some view such organizations as a tragedy of the commons, others view the notion of 'freeloaders' as a relic of open source's Wild West era, when coding was a higher calling and free software a religion. To be sure, increased adoption by mainstream enterprises has played a hand in changing the terms of this debate. Yet, as the biggest consumer of open source software, enterprise IT still gives almost nothing back to the community, critics contend, calling into question the long-term effect corporate culture will have on the evolution of open source — and the long-term effect open source will have on rewiring companies toward collaboration."
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Should Enterprise IT Give Back To Open Source?

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  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:34AM (#28167075)

    But many companies are too small to make a signifigant contribution. Are we suggesting making contributions manditory in order to get free software? Doing this would simply destroy the OSS movement completely.

    Microsoft requires contributions... of money. Small companies that cant help develop OSS would simply be forced back to the traditional pay-for software.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:54AM (#28167345) Journal

      Small companies that use open source software are giving back by employing those who administer this software.

      • by Dan Ost (415913) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:00AM (#28167409)

        They're also giving back by submitting bug reports and helping devs find problems in the software. They might also help others solve problems in mailing lists and forums.

        Most users that give back give back in the same way. Why should we hold small companies to a higher standard?

    • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium&yahoo,com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:04AM (#28167461)

      If the administrators at those small companies see a way to improve the software then give those improvements back then that should be enough.

    • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:11AM (#28167555)

      Are we suggesting making contributions manditory in order to get free software?

      That's not free as in speech, and not free as in beer. And don't get me started on measuring contributions.

    • by EatHam (597465)

      But many companies are too small to make a signifigant contribution.

      And the ones that are large enough to can't get anything through accounting without a proper invoice, a company to pay it to, tax IDs, terms, and contracts.

      • by Tanktalus (794810)

        And the ones that are large enough to can't get anything through accounting without a proper invoice, a company to pay it to, tax IDs, terms, and contracts.

        That's easily solved by CIO fiat. I mean, companies like Sun Oracle and IBM have given generous amounts of code to the OS movement, and continue to work on said code (albeit often with a commercial license as well). It's doable. You just need to drag in the right people, usually the C*O's, and accounting will find a new process for handling this.

      • by afidel (530433) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:45AM (#28168065)
        And those guys usually give back by demanding and paying for robust, well tested software from their vendors which then give back to the open source community. Since Redhat, Suse, and the other distro's and software houses are by FAR the biggest contributors of code to the OS community those large IT shops are giving back directly by paying the salary of the fulltime developers who are the largest contributors. There are significant contributions from the hobyist/enthusiast sector but the bulk of the work, especially on unsexy areas is done by people who are paid to do the work and either their employer or their customers are carrying those costs.
    • I give back (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:01AM (#28168289) Journal

      I give back. I support, test, evangelize, promote, install, use, help others use FOSS.

      I use FOSS because it is FREE (Libre AND Gratis). Because of Linux (and other FOSS), I've helped change the minds of many people to the benefits of FOSS.

      Just recently, My Father-in-law had to reset his laptop (unfortunately XP) and had to re-install Adobe CS Suite. Well Adobe said he had too many installs already, and to call in. He called in, and they said "We don't support that version any longer".

      We all know to expect this behavior, but this was completely the last straw for my FIL, and he told the support person he will never use Adobe ever again.

      After I put in a Linux Server for him (Document Backup), and he saw how well it worked, he asked if Linux would work on his laptop. :-D

      So, we take Linux to one person at a time. We all work towards this.

      And while it may not look like we are making much progress, we are. I can recall back in the early days of Linux, how much of a "joke" it was. Well, slowly and surely it is starting to make real impact into the world.

      That impact is not because of corporate support for FOSS, it is because FOSS is being worked into corporate, just like when PC's started to sneak into corporate 35 years ago.

      One day, corporate is going to wake up and realize that FOSS is in the workplace, because the tools they have provided are not sufficient.

      Then ... you win.

    • by Hilltopperpete (1444893) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:58PM (#28169893)
      A Raleigh, NC-based firm, Relevance, Inc. (who I am using for my entrepreneurial venture), has "Open Source Fridays" where all of their employees take the day to work on open source. It makes for much better employees, as they often end up using the very patches they help write, and they can best utilize the nuances of languages they put careful study into. Justin Gehtland is CEO-- he wrote "Pragmatic Ajax", "Rails of Java Developers", the Ajax section of "ADWR", and won a Jolt Award for coauthoring "Better, Faster, Lighter Java". Relevance has a number of employees who collaborate on major pragmatic books or even conceive and execute themselves, like Stuart Halloway's "Programming Clojure". The benefit of working hard in open source is that your employees become incredible programmers. Here's some books by people on staff: http://thinkrelevance.com/books [thinkrelevance.com] Here's a link to their work on open source: http://thinkrelevance.com/open-source [thinkrelevance.com]
  • by sycodon (149926) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:36AM (#28167087)

    The Free Open Source Software community, that builds free, open source software, is complaining that they are not, in one way or another, being another compensated for their free software?

    • by Virak (897071) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:49AM (#28167289) Homepage

      No, you don't seem to be very clear on this. While I don't agree with these complaints, you are blatantly wrong on three counts. First, it is not the community as a whole, it is a subset of it, and a tiny one at that. Second, free as in speech, not as in beer. Third, they aren't asking for "compensation".

      • by Cowmonaut (989226)
        Mod this guy up, if only for the "Free as in Speech" vs "Free as in Beer" aspect. Its still one of the hardest things for people to grasp, which is sad since a lot of the fools having problems with it are from the US which is nicknamed "Land of the Free" for crying out loud.
        • by drsmithy (35869)

          Mod this guy up, if only for the "Free as in Speech" vs "Free as in Beer" aspect. Its still one of the hardest things for people to grasp, which is sad since a lot of the fools having problems with it are from the US which is nicknamed "Land of the Free" for crying out loud.

          Probably because "free as in speech" is such an atrociously poor and loaded analogy.

    • by eln (21727) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:00AM (#28167405) Homepage
      Agreed. The OSI during the late 1990s went out of their way to try and make Open Source palatable to businesses, and did so in large part by trying to water down the "share and share alike" ethic of the Free Software movement. These are the people like Eric S Raymond and his ilk who went around urging companies to take in Open Source software. They sold it with the whole Cathedral and Bazaar thing, where these giant companies could leverage the productive power of a large group of developers without having to pay for a large group of developers. They intentionally glossed over and marginalized the FSF's idea that consumers of Free Software should contribute to and redistribute the code, and created a split between the "Free Software" and "Open Source" concepts. They "approved" a significant number of software licenses that were technically Open Source, but were entirely against the basic idea Free Software was built on. In return for all this kowtowing to corporations and putting their concerns above the basic ethos of Free Software, they were rewarded with board positions at high flying dot-com companies, and millions of now-worthless shares of inflated dot-com stock.

      Now we complain that these corporations are taking advantage of Open Source software in exactly the way the OSI told them they could? Sure, some of them played lip service to "contributing back to the community," and some of them even do. But none of them will ever contribute back as much as they get, because the entire reason they went with Open Source in the first place was so they could get all the development work without having to pay for it.

      This is what you get when you take a movement based on an ideal and pervert it to try and take "market share" for a free product. You get more people using the product, but you lose the ideal in the process.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Virak (897071)

        But none of them will ever contribute back as much as they get, because the entire reason they went with Open Source in the first place was so they could get all the development work without having to pay for it.

        And do you contribute back as much as you get to all the FOSS projects whose software you use? I know I sure as fuck don't. Either you're being impressively hypocritical or you're Programming Jesus. Even Stallman can't make such a ridiculous claim. By your standards we're all a bunch of heartless

      • by Braino420 (896819) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:45AM (#28168063)
        I understand your point about the OSI, but I'm not sure how it relates to this topic of corporations contributing back code. Sure, there may be less strict licenses that OSI approve of, but the GPL allows corporations to do the _exact same thing_.

        Now we complain that these corporations are taking advantage of Open Source software in exactly the way the OSI told them they could?

        The OSI _and_ the FSF.

        But none of them will ever contribute back as much as they get

        I'm not sure that's possible for anyone at this point.

        This is what you get when you take a movement based on an ideal and pervert it to try and take "market share" for a free product. You get more people using the product, but you lose the ideal in the process.

        Good riddance. I'm glad the OSI did what they did, and I'm glad because it allows the pragmatic OSS people to be disassociated with the FSF while still with them in some underlying principles. Now, I'm grateful for what the FSF has done, but they will usually stick to their ideals when it's impractical. I simply want people to use my code, and if they redistribute it, then they should give their changes back to me. That's all I want, not some dream about people using free software everywhere (although I have no problem with that either).

      • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:06AM (#28168351) Homepage

        Woah. Wait a minute.

        I designed and produced several Embedded system products based on Linux. I DID give back. Not by sending in code, I did not change a line of anything in the linux kernel. I DID give back by posting knowledge to problems online freely as well as saying the product runs linux and here's a link to the source code for all the apps and packages in it.

        Only a nutjob thinks you must "give back" by submitting patches or code. The Knowledge given back that solved even 1 persons problem faster is valuable. Along with the advertising that the acknowledgment and the link to sources.

        Jeebus, the Current Panasonic Plasma and LCD tv's all run linux, and you can find the link as well as the "it runs linux" advertisement in the setup menu. That's a GREAT give back from Panasonic. They get the name linux in the face of millions of people that have no clue what linux is.

        The companies that package OSS up and try to pass it off as theirs? Yes they are the asshats of industry. Don't lump the rest of us in with the idiots.

      • by M. Baranczak (726671) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:04PM (#28169173)

        Now we complain that these corporations are taking advantage ...

        What's this "we" business? "We" are not complaining, one guy is complaining and he got his complaint posted on /.

        The freeloaders are a fact of life. And they don't really bother me. The value of a piece of software is what it can do for me; it's not dependent on scarcity. If a thousand other people start using this software, it has absolutely no effect on what I can do with it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by HiThere (15173)

        This is a community, not a borg. You get lots of different ideas in a community. Some aren't so hot.

        If you read the threads under this article, you'll notice that most people are dismissing this argument. You might also notice that the published article was in InfoWorld. Hardly a spokesman for ANY segment of the FOSS community.

    • by drsmithy (35869) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yhtimsrd.> on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:48AM (#28168097)

      The Free Open Source Software community, that builds free, open source software, is complaining that they are not, in one way or another, being another compensated for their free software?

      Let's also not forget these are the same people who tout OSS's zero purchase cost as one of its biggest advantages over Windows.

  • by Tinctorius (1529849) * on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:36AM (#28167089)

    This is exactly what the little voice in the head of everyone who firmly believes in the GPL says: everyone who uses open source software must give back, because it was free. I think people should shut that voice up. Now.

    The problem of freeloaders is approached here with sticks. Although that approach may work fine for some software or other licensed stuff, they work horribly if the customer has a choice. Instead, try the carrots approach. Make users fall in love with your project, so they actually want to give back to the software. Unfortunately, I don't know how to make the heartless, money-driven enterprise IT fall in love with a bunch of code, but it would obviously be a more durable solution than punishing everyone (what about other users?) who doesn't give back.

    It all gives the statement "this is free software" such a hypocritical ring to it, and that's probably the last thing you want if you're building a community. If your software is free, then everything you do with it must be a free choice, regardless of the context you're using it in.

    tl;dr Forcing people to contribute to free software is (oxy)moronic.

    • by semiotec (948062)

      non-GPL people are always bitching about GPL people. and can't see the brown stain in their own pants.

      Theo de Raadt is always complaining how companies that use OpenSSH or BSD do not contribute back either in form of code or money/hardware, the latter being the more frequent case.

      de Raadt is definitely not one of those people that "firmly believes in the GPL", and he is also definitely not that happy about companies not contributing back.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:57AM (#28167379) Journal

      This is exactly what the little voice in the head of everyone who firmly believes in the GPL says: everyone who uses open source software must give back, because it was free. I think people should shut that voice up. Now.

      If you firmly believe in the GPL, then all you want given back are changes made to the code. If all you do is use the code, you have nothing to give back. Bug reports are of course appreciated but not required.

      • Actually, under GPL you are only required to give your changes back if you distribute the modified program to others. You are perfectly free to make changes, keep them private, and enjoy the modified program privately as long as you do NOT distribute. It is the act of distribution that triggers the share and share alike clauses.
    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:59AM (#28167389) Homepage Journal

      This is the problem with the FOSS model. The vast majority of the people only care about free as in beer. Heck even the majority of FOSS zelots on Slashdot contribute nothing to FOSS. They claim that they are supporters because they encourage other people to use FOSS. The problem with FOSS is people need to eat. They want to own a home and retire someday. To do that you must get paid.
      A good number of Kernel developers are getting paid by Red Hat, IBM, and Novell. Imagine that they are getting paid by companies that sell software and at in the case of IBM hardware.
      Firefox developers are getting paid by Google search. Yes Firefox makes money from... Advertising!
      OpenOffice developers are getting paid by Sun because Sun really hated Microsoft. Let us hope that keep up.
      You can never force people to contribute to FOSS. It will not happen and that is just that. What is worse is that they models of how one can make money with FOSS are limited to only a few types of software. Nobody will every pay for modifications and support for a casual game.

      This is why FOSS will never be the only model for software development. It is also why Linux if it is every really going to do well on the desktop will need to have a way for people to sell software.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:24AM (#28167737)

      This is exactly what the little voice in the head of everyone who firmly believes in the GPL says: everyone who uses open source software must give back, because it was free. I think people should shut that voice up. Now.

      I firmly believe in the GPL and I don't believe "everyone who uses open source software must give back". I believe in following the license: use it freely, modify it freely, but give back your changes if you distribute. Anybody who doesn't support this position is free to create and use their own license on their own code.

      This whole thing is basically a strawman or a troll or similar. One guy who noboby's ever heard of says something stupid/controversial and then people (including you) start representing his view as if it was in any way representative of "GPL supporters".
      Given how "GPL Supporters" *constantly* emphasize the key point that companies don't have to give anything back at all unless they redistribute, it's pretty clear that his view is almost totally unrepresentative.

      The guy's probably either got some personal beef (wishes he hadn't released his stuff under the GPL so now attacks companies who use it and don't contribute, even thought that was his decision) or he just wants to promote his company or product.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      That's okay, because the way the license is written, you can't force it. In fact, the license is specifically designed to prevent you from forcing users to pay. As long as there is interest in maintaining the free option, it will be there.

      Users give back just by creating a community, from which you can gauge their interest. If the users mostly use it in a certain way, you know what parts to support. If the users bitch about a certain issue, you know what you need to fix. The users capable of giving back mor

    • by noidentity (188756) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:06AM (#28168359)

      The problem of freeloaders is approached here with sticks. [...] Instead, try the carrots approach. Make users fall in love with your project, so they actually want to give back to the software.

      A freeloader is someone who puts a load on things; using free software doesn't burden the author. Since no load is being put on anyone, there is no giving back, but simply giving. This is a big point of free software, that it costs virtually nothing to allow everyone to use the software freely, so artificially restricting this is just wasting a free resource. Personally I feel that others using free software I write is a gift to me, as it gives me an audience and thus feedback and motivation to improve my software creation skills.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:36AM (#28167091)

    The idea that users should give back to the community is absurd. If the "community" was at all concerned about receiving some kind of recompense, surely they would have charged the users for the software.

    But Free Software is about freedom. Not only the freedom to give your source code away, but the freedom to modify and adapt software as needed. There is no concept of a user returning source code to the community except as a contributor (which, again, is a freely undertaken venture). The only time someone is required to "give back" to the community is when they seek to propagate their changes. Since the idea is to make sure everyone is able to use and modify the software as they need, it is necessary to require the new source changes.

    So if I don't steal your car, but only borrow it for a day and return it washed and waxed with the gas tank full, what is the point of claiming damages? That is sheer greed. It is the antithesis of what the Free Software Movement is all about.

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Yup. The reward for giving back is that the software does what you want it to do.

      Those who do not give back shouldn't be punished, but they also shouldn't be surprised if the volunteers running the project take it someplace they'd rather not see it go.

      Free software exists by and for the pleasure of its developers. Sure, most of them are nice people and are willing to do favors for end users, but in the end if you want to see something fixed there is nothing like a ready-to-go patch.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:43AM (#28168025) Journal

      As a free software[1] developer, I don't care who uses my code without giving anything back, but they shouldn't expect anything from me beyond a tarball. If someone provides helpful bug reports, then we both benefit from improved software by my spending some time addressing them. If someone submits a patch that is useful to more than one person, we both benefit if I review and commit it.

      Someone who uses my code and gives nothing back is just irrelevant to me. If it helps them, then that's great for them, and I'm pleased that it's saved them the effort of reimplementing my work, but beyond that I just don't care.

      Community is important. Communities form because it benefits the members more to be part of them than to be entirely independent individuals. If you don't want to join a community, you can still get some of the benefits from its existence, but not all of them.

      [1] I prefer the term Hippyware - it's more expressive and less confusing.

  • It's in the rules (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 91degrees (207121) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:36AM (#28167095) Journal
    If you don't like people using your code, then don't release it under a licence that allows people to use it without giving back.

    If you don't like people using stuff that your "community" created, what gives you the right to say how other people should let their code be used?

    What harm is done if they don't give back to the community? Failing to do so does no harm to the resource. It doesn't benefit it either but neither does using a closed source solution.
  • not entirely true (Score:4, Informative)

    by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:37AM (#28167113)

    Corporations pay for those hefty service contracts.

    In my office we use an open source wiki and we pay thousands of US dollars a year for support/maintenance contracts.

    There's probably not much code contribution as most IT people don't have a software development background. Those who do have the skills lack the time.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@@@gmail...com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:37AM (#28167121)
    There should be no compulsion to contribute, as the freedom to choose to contribute or not *must* be one of the fundamental freedoms in Open Source.

    Think of their usage as advertising...
  • by Shrike82 (1471633) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:38AM (#28167129)
    From TFA:

    The Eclipse community should create peer pressure to prevent the freeloaders and parasites from getting away without punishment

    How the hell can anyone consider "punishment" for people who use open-source software? If you make your code open-source then I thought the whole point was that anyone and everyone was free to use it within the constraints of the licence. Show me where it says "Thou shalt giveth back to the open-source community or faceth my wrath".

    This mentality is outrageous and damaging to the very principles of open-source software.

  • Free Software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:39AM (#28167143)

    If you have to give back, then it's not "free software". A similar thing was seen in the whole "Linux" vs. "GNU/Linux" debate. If it's really "free", then why the demands for something in return? Why the demands for credit? Why the complaints about freeloaders? Freeloading is always the result of giving something away for free.

  • by Leebert (1694) * on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:41AM (#28167171)

    Free software developers lose exactly nothing when someone uses their software.

    Free software gains ubiquity when someone uses their software. Which translates into things like vendor support (drivers, etc.), the advantages of greater adoption for certain technologies (Metcalf's law type stuff), etc. etc.

  • by StylusEater (1206014) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:41AM (#28167173)
    ...I once quite a job over this exact problem. Managers at my old company constantly claimed "cost savings and ROI" by using these "new software tools" but didn't dare mention they were FOSS tools for fear of ridicule by the "CTO and CIO" folks who get their "tech news" from trade rags. Then, once I wrote a neat tool for file synchronization over several Linux boxen I asked to open it up because I needed help and also because I knew others in the community would benefit; and yes I was saving the company money. They said "No." and I said, "OK, I'm out." They offered more money and I said "I'm still out." Granted most folks on Slashdot will think I'm an idiot and not "American" or a "Capitalist" for doing such a thing but I sincerely believe folks need to start doing what I did in order to get it through the management brain that "without our code, you have no cost advantage over the competition." Now, unleash the /. ridicule hounds...
    • You are aware or rsync and power of bash, right?

      Of course you will be ridiculed. You managed to rage-out for no reason at all. While you could think yourself and file-sync messiah, you should look up success rates of OS projects. Wasteland of abandoned projects is covered with 'neat tools' which reinvented wheel.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by StylusEater (1206014)

        "You are aware or rsync and power of bash, right?"

        I certainly am. Part of the code base included a nice wrapper around rsync, monitoring, statuses and etc.

        "Of course you will be ridiculed. You managed to rage-out for no reason at all. While you could think yourself and file-sync messiah,..."

        I don't think I'm the file-synce messiah. I leave that to the almighty FSM...

        "...you should look up success rates of OS projects."

        I'm well aware of the "success rates" but it doesn't hurt to try.

    • No, that's the correct response. If everyone did that, free software would get a great boost.

      Did you emphasize the money and time savings by opening the source? Were there unmet needs of the software, or was it "Good Enough?" If to management the software was "Good Enough", and offered them a competitive advantage, then in their eyes they were doing the right thing. I can be a hard argument to make. "If we open the code, we lose our competitive advantage, but an unknown number of people might contr
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:11AM (#28168439) Homepage

      It's called having scruples and most people don't have them.

      your old employer crossed a line you believe strongly in. You reacted with what you though was best.

      That makes you a far better man than most. I tip my hat to you.

  • No, they should not. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Open source software isn't about receiving, it is about giving.

    This story shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what open source is about.

    If companies, IT departments or not, should give back, then why shouldn't users at home?

    Where do you draw the line?

    Are people trying to say that Open Source Software shouldn't be free for commercial use?

    Seems to me like someone or some people in the Open Source movement are either greedy or getting greedy. Money is not what Open Source Software is about.

    Maybe th

    • Open source software isn't about receiving, it is about giving.

      Nope.

      The free software movement was started because one programmer couldn't get the code to fix a bug in a printer driver. It's about Freedom. If I write software, you can't take that software and keep someone else from doing what they want with it. You can do what you want with the software, including publishing it, but you can't attach your own restrictions on that software.

      Contributing to Free Software is just gravy that makes it all taste good. It's not necessary for any one individual to co

  • This is where the whole "money" thing came in. This reminds me of the south park episode where the kids are talking to first year college students.
  • by RabidMonkey (30447) <canadaboyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:45AM (#28167225) Homepage

    I work for a large company that uses Open Source Software as its backbone. I have been pushing for us to put some money into some of the projects that we use, or to recontribute some of the patches we've made. In both cases, I am met with the stubborn answer "that is our intellectual property". Trying to argue that the spirit of Open Source to recontribute to improve products, and that we've built our company upon that spirit and so we should contribute falls on deaf ears. We've now gotten big enough that the senior management and lawyers are more concerned with our IP than with supporting the community that supported us when we were starting. It's bad enough that I'm not even allowed to post code snippets/example bind or ntp configs etc on to various mailing lists I may be on because they also belong to "us".

    There is a strong push at the technical level to recontribute, to fund a couple of the projects that we use heavily, but ultimately it's the higher ups and the legal folks that say no way.

    I expect things like that are the reason enterprises are leeches, and I expect there is a large contingent of technical workers who disagree with the decision. I know I do.

    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:58AM (#28167383)

      Trying to argue that the spirit of Open Source to recontribute to improve products, and that we've built our company upon that spirit and so we should contribute falls on deaf ears. We've now gotten big enough that the senior management and lawyers are more concerned with our IP than with supporting the community that supported us when we were starting. It's bad enough that I'm not even allowed to post code snippets/example bind or ntp configs etc on to various mailing lists I may be on because they also belong to "us".

      There is a strong push at the technical level to recontribute, to fund a couple of the projects that we use heavily, but ultimately it's the higher ups and the legal folks that say no way.

      I expect things like that are the reason enterprises are leeches, and I expect there is a large contingent of technical workers who disagree with the decision. I know I do.

      The problem is that you are not communicating with the higher ups in language they understand. You say, "We should recontribute because that is the spirit of Open Source." They hear, "We should give away our hard work so that our competitors can benefit from it."
      What you should say is, "We should recontribute so that someone else can make IMPROVEMENTS on our modifications that we can then use without having to pay for it." You need to communicate to them that there are people out there who, once they see the changes you have made to the project, will make other changes that you would not have thought of, but that you can benefit from.

      • An act of faith (Score:3, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356)

        "We should recontribute so that someone else can make IMPROVEMENTS on our modifications that we can then use without having to pay for it." You need to communicate to them that there are people out there who...will make other changes that you would not have thought of, but that you can benefit from.

        They may be out there.

        That doesn't mean they aren't working for your competitors and keeping their changes in house.

        Sometimes the ball just lies there dead.

        You can't promise your boss that opening the code will

    • A large part of my contribution comes from forum participation. If I have an issue, and I don't have a support contract, then I take it to the forums and iron it out there. That way the next person that comes along with the same problem can learn from that, which helps the community. Bug reports help in the same way, provided you do enough investigation on your side and provide useful scenarios and test cases. And since you are troubleshooting with others from the community, the solution is not "owned"

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:51AM (#28168133) Journal

        Bug reports help in the same way, provided you do enough investigation on your side and provide useful scenarios and test cases

        This needs to be written in huge letters. I've received a few bug reports that were so accurate I could jump immediately to the function containing the bug and fix it in a few seconds. Without them, I'd have probably spent the best part of a day hunting for the cause of strange glitches. In around 90% of cases, fixing the bug is much harder than finding it. Detailed bug reports, with instructions for reproducing, are incredibly valuable. Vague reports are worthless, they just waste my time. Often a bug will be dependent on some platform-specific behaviour and so I won't be able to reproduce it. I had an interesting concurrency issue like this a while ago. The bug submitter wrote a test case that always failed for him, but it passed 100% of the time on my machine due to differences in the underlying threading system. In spite of that, I could find and fix the bug because his test narrowed it down to only a few lines of code that might be the cause and looking at them carefully let me find an invalid assumption about a library routine.

  • If corporations are leeches, not giving back, then corporate culture will have no effect on open source. In fact, open source will be in a position to effect corporate culture.
  • I think the comments above me have adequately covered what an asinine concept it is to be pissed off that someone would have the audacity to take you up on your offer of using their free software, for free.

    I think some of this relates to the attitude of some developers that "business" is a bad thing, and therefore if businesses are using your open source software, they are somehow screwing you over.

    Glad to see most people here understand that to be ridiculous.

  • I was under the impression that software released under the GPL was free for anybody to use, if you respect the terms in GPL. I do not remember having read anything about contributions to the community in GPL. Therefore, a company that uses GPL:d software is under no obligation to make contributions to the community. However, should they choose to do so, I am sure the community would appreciate it.

    While many companies might use GPL:d software without making (monetary) contributions to the community, I th
  • by uncreativeslashnick (1130315) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:49AM (#28167277)
    Not sure if this is done currently, but why not offer membership for businesses and individuals in some sort of open source foundation? Then the IT enterprises can pay some sort of nominal fee and at least give money back to a foundation that can then donate to worthy projects. And it would be tax-deductible as a business or trade membership. In return for membership, the org could offer a few basic services like a trade journal, consulting classifieds and/or matching consultants with enterprises who are looking for a particular solution.
  • Missing the point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:49AM (#28167287)

    Bill Gates called and wants his moral high ground [blinkenlights.com] back.

    Seriously, if you feel some sense of entitlement because you write software that other people use, a proprietary model is a more effective way to get what you deserve. Though note, what you actually deserve and what you think you deserve may not be the same thing...

  • by j-turkey (187775) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:52AM (#28167329) Homepage

    Fair!?! WHO'S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! What are you, a bunch of fucking crybabies?

    (I know...the open source community != Nihilists, but I couldn't resist the chance to use this otherwise applicable Big Lebowski quote)

  • by anomnomnomymous (1321267) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:53AM (#28167337)
    What, so now another condition for using Open Source software is that you should be contribruting to it?
    If I use Open Office for my company, this means I should be contributing to its codesource? What if my company is an accountant agency? Should I feel morally obliged to hire programmers to do my share?

    I think it's quite funny how first the open source movement seems to complaint how everybody is using proprietary software instead of the open source variants, which are (in some cases) perfectly able to do the job.
    But now that some companies are alowly picking up some open source software, they get bashed for not contributing.
    If you're working on open source software and you got a problem with companies actually using it without contributing, I'm sure there is a license that will let you AND open your source up to other people, AND be able to say that companies can't commercially use it.

    Or... just make your source closed...
  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:00AM (#28167397)

    By 'legitimising' the software, by using it. Just as IBM got people used to the idea of using PCs in a business environment, so big organisations, by using Linux and Oo, are saying that it's "OK" to use this stuff. As more and more businesses use FOSS, pressure will increase on hardware and software companies to improve support - in fact, this trend is well underway...I'm really looking forward to the time when I can go to the local store and pickup a laptop or whatever and it's got Linux pre-installed, I get home/to the client's site, plug it in and all my peripherals 'just work', I can install and run my old windows legacy apps 'out of the box' etc.

    We're pretty close already...(those of you that have not tried - for example - Ubuntu lately, try again. I just installed on a brand-new laptop that came with Vista as standard and everything worked pretty well, including traditional problem areas such as video, wifi and bluetooth. Impressive.)

  • ... enterprise IT still gives almost nothing back to the community ...

    Even by just using OSS, enterprises increase the presumption of legitimacy and value of OSS in our culture.

    Perhaps just as importantly, corporations and government agencies are getting a stake in having OSS software not hurt by the exercise of software patents. This gives those companies and agencies an incentive to work against patent abuse. Like what happened to members of Congress when the Blackberry patent issue came to a head.

    So a

    • by xgr3gx (1068984)
      I'd have to agree there. Simply using OSS stuff in the enterprise is giving back in a way. Many times they release some of their source code for free.

      But it would be nice if big IT companies that develop some of their stuff on the back of opensource gave some donations back to the projects they use.
      I always see licenses included in EULAs of enterprise products for open source stuff, like OpenSSL, Perl, and Apache.
  • by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:10AM (#28167521)

    Here we go with this crap again...

    Listen folks - there are NO open source leeches. It is WRONG to put open source out for ALL to use and then start calling people names because they're using the software EXACTLY AS YOU ALLOWED THEM TO DO.

    If you want people to give back what they add THEN PUT IT IN THE LICENSE. Of course, that will limit the appeal of your software, but such is life.

  • InfoWorld reports on the fight over open source 'leeches' -- companies that use open source technology but don't give back to the open source community.

    That's bullshit. The fact that the FOSS software in question is being used in the first place is a good thing. By being a user, you find bugs. In an enterprise environment, those bugs are usually reported back to either the distribution or the upstream project itself in hopes of getting it fixed in a patch later on. All of this "your a freeloader unless you contribute code or money" mentality needs to go. It could be worse, you could be the leader of an open source project that nobody even wants to use

  • Altruists who go looking for reward, recognition and contributions aren't very good altruists. If you expect rewards and recognition -- sell your product. If you expect contributions, pay for them.

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:15AM (#28167631)
    Many organizations use open source, but actively have policies that prevent giving code back. Systems to prevent this may backfire, because if an organization *had* to give back, they might just think it's safer to go with closed source. True or not, many lawyers prefer a draconian closed source license that has been paid for over an open license that hasn't. The closed source license is perceived to have been more tested by the courts. Since closed licenses are all different, while GPL, Apache, BSD, and CC are published, well researched, and not overreaching, I don't know why they would reach that conclusion. Some companies have exclusive contracts that have only been seen by a handful of attorneys, while the major open source license have been seen and debated by the World.

    Most companies have an overinflated view of the value of their contributions, (although they only paid their programmers industry standard wages) so they put up internal barriers that make it difficult or impossible to give back.
  • I have a small GPL project [sourceforge.net] that's fairly popular in certain circles, but I didn't write it to be popular. I wrote it because it met a need that my company had. Whether no people or a million use it, we'll get the same financial compensation: zero. But again, that's not why we released it! We have gotten back bug reports and enhancement requests that prompted me to make changes we never would have thought of on our own, and those changes have been useful to us. Isn't that compensation enough? It is for

  • by kris (824) <kris-slashdot@koehntopp.de> on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:16AM (#28167647) Homepage

    In the past ten years I have been working in multiple companies that have had businesses based on open source software. Very often these businesses not only used open source software, but also substantially modified it in order to adjust it to the needs of the enterprise, to make it scale or simply to fix bugs in code that otherwise has been rarely exercised.

    In effect, this created a fork of the software, internally inside the enterprise.

    These changes can be maintained inside the company, binding company ressources, or they can be put back upstream. Code can be part of what differentiates you from other companies, or it can be code that does stuff you do which others do as well - then it is infrastructure code to you. All infrastructure code inside your company you should share as open source quickly and reliably, because that not only improves the code but also shares your cost with others.

    Very often companies do not do that - instead they are maintaining their fork of code internally, failing to integrate changes from the outside into their own fork, and binding valueable development ressources inside the enterprise in reproducing changes from the outside indepently. The reason for that is usually that there is an intellectual property regime which requires clearance of code before it can leave the company, but insufficient staffing for the actual clearance process.

    As the enterprise slowly accumulates and integrates more and more open source projects to maintain their business they are slowly dragged down if they do not manage the process of giving changes back upstream properly.

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:18AM (#28167673)

    Most open source licenses say that as long as you don't modify the source, you don't have to contribute.

    As long as companies are obeying the license agreement, then why complain?

    I would say that as long as they obey the terms of the license agreement (and whether or not they contribute themselves) then this is a win for open source software.

  • I used to work at a company that used open source almost everywhere. We were pretty zealous about it, looking back now. At the core of the data structure, we were using Postgresql and had a scheme of mastermaster replication between two data centers. We developed a way to handle this. After some soul searching, and a realistic analysis, the owners came to the conclusion that the software didn't really help our direct competitors, and would be safer/better out in the open. So, we open sourced it: http:/ [bucardo.org]
  • I call bullshit on this article.

    I have written Open Source code, I have worked with and been friends with dozens of Open Source hackers, I even organized a Linux install-fest once. I have never heard one single Open Source hacker whisper the slightest hint of a complaint about the free rider problem. When you get into developing Open Source, it is almost certainly after having spent a lot of time with proprietary software, and having spent some time wondering, "How does this Open Source thing work?" If you'

  • So the money that the companies pay to RedHat and/or Novell isn't enough? Voting with their dollars is a pretty powerful vote.

  • Isn't that the point where charity becomes communism?

    I suppose we need to decide what we are as a community? The autors of free works or the traders of non-free works; an open community, or a community only of those who contribute.

  • Many Enterprises Already Contribute and employ OS developers, but for the biggest this needs to extend for those not directly in the IT business. Fortune 100 companies could make a larger contribution and still get FOSS essentially FREE.

    More importantly large companies should try to make a contribution to the eco-system in which they live by exerting pressure and making monetary contribution to help remove the enterprise linux killers,

    MS Exchange, calendar
    Flash
    ODF
    MS apps on the desktop
    AP
  • Every once in a while somebody open sources something to gain visibility and once they're known they complain about having to give it away for nothing. That is greedy, you wouldn't probably have sold anything if it weren't free and Free, being a small operation... Make a business plan before releasing anything or have peace with no financial returns.

    calling into question the long-term effect corporate culture will have on the evolution of open source

    This is a different thing altogether, corporations ARE greedy and don't have morals, which is a bad thing. And in general it is more poignant as a function of h

  • If those few developers wanted enterprises to give back, they should have put that in the license. Otherwise, stop complaining about enterprises using the product according to it's license.

  • BAD ANALOGY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bobtree (105901) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:57AM (#28168203)

    This is most definitely NOT a "tragedy of the commons" scenario. Open Source and Free software are available for unlimited duplication and have no inherent scarcity, unlike the allegorical commons. The fact that they benefit from more widespread usage due to feedback and bugfixing further turns this stupidly misused comparison on its head.

  • Zero marginal cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:22AM (#28168569) Homepage
    The "tragedy of the commons" does not apply. There is no scarce resource here. The cost to a Free Software developer of one more IT shop installing his software is zero. Since a small fraction do contribute, each additional installation produces, on average, a net positive contribution. There are no "leeches". Everyone is welcome to use the software whether they can contribute or not. The more the merrier.
  • by vinn (4370) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:43AM (#28168841) Homepage Journal

    This is directed at all of you middle level managers out there. Yes you.

    I worked on one of the large open source projects for over 5 years. I saw the day in, day out grind of the project. Now I'm a middle level manager in the IT world and I'm seeing things from the other side. It's one thing if you use a small, free utility a few times a week. It's quite another if you're running your business on it. Now, lots of people here are saying "blah blah, it's free, it's ok to not contribute." I say BS. All take and no give just makes you a jerk. If each of us just helps a little bit, we only make things even better.

    There are a TON of things you can do that don't involve donating code, it just requires you get off your lazy butt and do something.

    • I bet your company has a way of making charitable contributions. Do you know how that works? You probably fill out a form and give it to someone. They evaluate the merits of the application and possibly write a check. If you write something like, "This piece of free software saved us $20,000 in implementation costs last year." and then fight for it, you can probably get some $$$ from your company to donate back to the project. Yes, projects like money. Even if it's just for beer money.
    • Donate documentation. All documentation can be better, take some time to get someone to make it better.
    • Translate. A lot of open source projects have i18n capabilities and if you have someone that can translate the English into Swahili it'd be appreciated.
    • Forum mongering / bug reporting. Hang out in the forums for the project, answer questions. Log into the project's bugzilla and triage bugs. No bugzilla? Offer to set one up for them and host it.
    • Use your secret manager-fu skills to help the project out. This can mean different things, but sometimes it's very helpful to have someone act as an organizer, a lightning rod, or in general a communicator for a project. For instance, once there was a project that could really benefit by having about 5 VMWare licenses. I realized none of the developers lived in the US or spoke English as a native language. Therefore, it was easiest for me to make some phone calls and get the licenses - I called VMWare and arranged the whole thing. It took about 2 hours but was immensely useful for development.
    • Hire interns. How does your intern policy work? Do you even know? Sometimes it's possible to get an intern to work for you and in turn you can donate some of the intern's time to work on a project.
    • Are your vendors using open source? Get them to contribute back in one of these ways too. Talk to them about it - get them to understand why it's important.

    So, if you're a mid-level manager and you say "I can't" donate to open source projects, then you're just being lazy.

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