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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 StylusEater (1206014) on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:41AM (#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...
  • No, they should not. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:42AM (#28167179)

    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 the above is naive and altruistic because companies will exploit Open Source Software, but really, who cares?

    In the end, if they don't give back then they're only making life more difficult for themselves because they will need to continue to maintain any private changes/patches themselves. There are significant cost savings to giving private changes back because you no longer have to maintain them yourself. Smart companies will realise this. Dumb ones won't. And so let the crumbs fall where they may... we should not care who gives back, if they give back or how or what. It's not important to us.

  • by RabidMonkey (30447) <canadaboy.gmail@com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:45AM (#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 uncreativeslashnick (1130315) on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:49AM (#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.
  • by Dan Ost (415913) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:00AM (#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 Maximum Prophet (716608) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:15AM (#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.
  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:18AM (#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.

  • 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 more will do so if it helps them in some way. They'll do more of it if you make it easy; I know that I've filed more bug reports with Ubuntu than anything else because they make it easy (so long as you have plenty of bandwidth, heh. Don't try to use Ubuntu websites via modem, mang. Serious fail.)

  • by Virak (897071) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:43AM (#28168023) Homepage

    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 assholes leeching off the poor, defenseless Free Software projects by daring to use them without being a major member of their development teams.

  • by Braino420 (896819) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:45AM (#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 TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 01, 2009 @09:51AM (#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.

  • I give back (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:01AM (#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 Virak (897071) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:16AM (#28168491) Homepage

    Nice job completely missing the point. If there were an award for such a thing, you'd probably win it for this article.

    My point is that there's no reason why people should be able to use software as much as they please, but things suddenly become magically different when it's used by a company. Or rather, used by people in the company; the company itself is but a legal construct and incapable of using software. You don't see whiny free software advocates complaining about people running giant Linux clusters without giving anything of any sort back, or about people using FOSS for profit (as long as they're not doing it for a company). It's just "oh it's a company this is completely different for no reason whatsoever".

    Unless he can come up with a damn good reason for why there should be such a distinction, my point stands.

    RCP. Read, Comprehend, Post.

    Oh, the irony.

  • by Forge (2456) <kevinforge@@@gmail...com> on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:37AM (#28168771) Homepage Journal
    Wow. It get's worse.

    The guy who posits the idea of the Open Source business model dying is under the impression that companies pay for support so they can call someone when it's broken? ROTFLOL.

    I have never gotten better support from a vendor's phone line or email cue than I do on IRC. And my fellow Slashdotters should know a thing or two about IRC's failings as a support vehicle (was it even built for that?)
  • by Hilltopperpete (1444893) on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:58AM (#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]

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