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Open Source Software Linux

Only Idiots Don't Give Back To Free Software 326

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the contribute-or-die dept.
Julie188 writes "Downstream projects who take without contributing back to the upstream project defeat the benefit of open source and sooner or later, all organizations developing on top of open source code will realize this, contends Jim Zemlin, executive director of the nonprofit Linux Foundation. So the time for cajoling those users — even commercial projects like Canonical — into participating is over. Contributing is 'not the right thing to do because of some moral issue or because we say you should do it. It's because you are an idiot if you don't,'" he says." Update: 08/30 21:40 GMT by S : Reworded summary to clarify that Zemlin wasn't referring to end users.
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Only Idiots Don't Give Back To Free Software

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  • by ge7 (2194648) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:30PM (#37256358)
    Contributing back takes money and can be counter-productive for the community too - especially if it's introduces lots of buggy or bad code. Someone has to go through all of that. This is especially true because whatever you say, making actual contributions takes time and isn't really high in the list of companies priorities. You can say all you want about short-term thinking, but it's just a fact of life. Companies can't really do anything with it - unlike most people seem to think, many companies are working with really strict budgets too. They don't have unlimited access to cash or resources.

    If you truly believe in open source, you should let anyone to decide what they do with the code. Some will contribute back, and those will be good contributions. Then some won't, nothing is lost. The same is why I think BSD license is much better GPL - if you truly believe in freedom, you let everyone to decide themselves. After all, open source was created to free people from proprietary code and people telling them what they can't do.
    • by Microlith (54737) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:36PM (#37256448)

      open source was created to free people from proprietary code and people telling them what they can't do.

      The GPL was created to ensure that the user would ALWAYS have access to the source code, regardless of how they acquired it, and would be free to modify it as they saw fit. It was specifically designed so that the code could not be made proprietary, and grants users permission to do what the laws would otherwise deny you the right to on the condition you give others the same freedom you were granted.

      It is not, at all, about telling other people what they can and cannot do.

      • open source was created to free people from proprietary code and people telling them what they can't do.

        It is not, at all, about telling other people what they can and cannot do.

        No, it's about freeing people from other people telling them what they can an can not do, as ge7 stated.

      • by Duradin (1261418)

        So basically the GPL was created specifically to tell people what they cannot do.

        • "So basically the GPL was created specifically to tell people what they cannot do."

          Certainly not.

          In order to demonstrate it you just need to negate the GPL. Do you think people can now do *more* or *less* things with the code so licensed?

        • by Microlith (54737)

          You can already NOT redistribute copyrighted works.

          The GPL grants you permission upon acceptance of the terms.

        • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @02:19PM (#37256942) Homepage

          So basically the GPL was created specifically to tell people what they cannot do.

          Yes. It is there to tell you that you cannot withhold from others the very freedoms you were granted.

          "Free to do anything but restrict the freedom of others" is only "non-free" to sociopaths.

      • > It was specifically designed so that the code could not be made proprietary

        BSD code cannot be made proprietary by anyone once released. You can forever use it under the BSD.

        • by Duradin (1261418)

          Unlike media, which can't be stolen since the bits are still there, making something proprietary makes all the non-proprietary bits disappear from everywhere, forever, instantly.

      • by deains (1726012)

        It is not, at all, about telling other people what they can and cannot do.

        Actually, that's exactly what it is. Any license agreement that doesn't consist of "do what the fuck you want", is basically a set of instructions saying what you can and can't do with the code.

        All the GPL really does is get in the way. The viral licensing, must-include-source rubbish just means I can't use it to develop other projects. Which in turn means I'm much less likely to contribute any code back, as it's just coding for coding's sake from my PoV. For some devs this is perfectly fine, and I applaud

        • by vlm (69642)

          All the GPL really does is get in the way. The viral licensing, must-include-source rubbish just means I can't use it to develop other projects

          Slight correction, it means you can't include GPLed source code in the source code of your redistributed closed source projects. It hardly means you "can't use it".

          I use GPLed stuff in closed source projects at work for nearly 20 years now. I am not allowed to distribute those projects I've developed under stacks of NDAs, confidentiality agreements, and criminal laws. Since the intent was to actually use the project in-house rather than to sell it or redistribute it, no problemo. Copyright notices are p

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          All the GPL really does is get in the way. The viral licensing, must-include-source rubbish just means I can't use it to develop other projects.

          You can't use it to develop non-free projects. Good.

          Which in turn means I'm much less likely to contribute any code back, as it's just coding for coding's sake from my PoV. For some devs this is perfectly fine, and I applaud their effort, but there's no denying that GPLing the code automatically cuts off a portion of the developer base you can never get back.

          There is no denying that the GPL cuts off the portion of the developer base who finds the notion of granting their users freedom onerous. Preventing these people from benefiting from the freedom they would deny others is a feature, and the loss of their hypothetical contributions acceptable.

          On that note, while sure you're more likely to contribute to a GPL project if you're using it than if you're not... Exactly how likely am I supposed to believe it is

          • by vlm (69642)

            You can't use it to develop non-free projects. Good.

            Major misconception. You just can't redistribute the non-free project in any way. Use it all you want internally, as long as its never released into the wild.

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              I was assuming they wished to distribute their project, otherwise the GPL would not have been an obstacle.

              If the project is undistributed, then it's neither "free" nor "non-free" since those terms refer to who you allow to distribute it and what they're allowed to do with it.

        • by PitaBred (632671)

          How does it help anyone other than you the way you propose, though? You said you won't use it because the license doesn't require you to give it back. It's somehow magically different when the license doesn't require you to? You would give back if you didn't have to? That's just... stupid. Or you're just selfish and lying.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        The GPL was created

        He only said "open source", not specifically GPL.

        The truth is, many people have many reasons for open sourcing their code. That's why you have so many licenses out there. Some just throw it out in the public domain, and others want to enforce sharing. Some want to use the open source version as trialware. Some just don't care. It is impossible to generalize.

        • by Microlith (54737)

          He only said "open source", not specifically GPL.

          I was referring specifically to a statement made by the GP, not directly to the statements of Jim Zemlin.

      • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

        It is not, at all, about telling other people what they can and cannot do.

        So if I take the source of gcc and modify it to do something new, the GPL places no requirements or restrictions on what I can or cannot do with my derivative work? ...riiiight.

        The GPL is not about freedom at all. It's about enforcing control over derivative works. It is like a virus; if a single line of GPL code enters a product with millions of lines of non-GPL code, that one line means you are required to distribute all of your source code. The GPL is precisely about telling you what you can and canno

    • by Applekid (993327)

      Contributing back takes money and can be counter-productive for the community too - especially if it's introduces lots of buggy or bad code. Someone has to go through all of that.

      Sounds like if someone is an idiot they shouldn't contribute anyway. The statement "only idiots don't give back" is inflammatory, but, if you take a step back at it, it's fine: nobody wants their contributions anyway.

      That said, there are other ways to contribute to open source without having to code. Being an ambassador by raising awareness (kind of like a meatspace OSALT [osalt.com]) and providing support with help is just as valuable as the greatest bug fix check-in.

      • Perhaps, but calling people "idiots" if they don't help by submitting code isn't going to get many people to donate money or enthusiastically promote your software. ("These people think I'm an idiot because I don't code, but everyone should use their software!")

        • TFA says "contributing", which is more than just coding. Hey, but you go ahead and identify as "idiot". :-)

          I don't get much opportunity to code GPL -- most of the code I write is proprietary because it directly supports the environment I work in: it is irrelevant outside my organization. Instead, I contribute by reporting bugs, requesting features, and by "spreading the word". If I get a chance, I'll try to contribute code.

          Many of the people I work with are contractors, and every line of code they write has

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        That said, there are other ways to contribute to open source without having to code. Being an ambassador by raising awareness (kind of like a meatspace OSALT [osalt.com]) and providing support with help is just as valuable as the greatest bug fix check-in.

        That's right. If you use FOSS to any degree, it is hypocritical of you to not act an advocate.

        To Duradin, who said

        So basically the GPL was created specifically to tell people what they cannot do.

        In the sense that it says you cannot remove the freedoms specifically granted in the license, the yes, it does. And in the sense that it is a license and you must agree with it and uphold it, then yes it does.

        As does every license.

      • "Being an ambassador by raising awareness (kind of like a meatspace OSALT) and providing support with help is just as valuable as the greatest bug fix check-in."

        Bravo. I was going to say something along that line.

        Keep in mind that in a bad economy, sometimes people do what they must, just to get along. Some people would dearly love to contribute back, if only they had the time and money to do so.

        To put it a different way: it is unrealistic to expect people to "contribute back" if that open source stuff isn't already making them enough of a profit to have the time and money to contribute back.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:45PM (#37256574) Journal

      Contributing back takes money

      Money they saved by going open source. It will cost less to help collectively maintain open software than it will to purchase a license for proprietary software.

      This is especially true because whatever you say, making actual contributions takes time and isn't really high in the list of companies priorities

      If they're using open source software, they must value what that software does for them. If nobody helps maintain it, it will go away. Complaining about contributing back to open source software is like complaining about the food you have to buy for the goose that lays golden eggs.

      They don't have unlimited access to cash or resources.

      Yes, the argument is that it's more economical to contribute to a healthy OSS ecosystem than it is to either leech off of an unhealthy OSS ecosystem or buy proprietary.

      • It will cost less to help collectively maintain open software than it will to purchase a license for proprietary software.

        Yeah, but the rest of the collective can pay and it'll be even cheaper!

        If only you don't contribute you get 99.999% of the benefits at 0% of the cost.

        If everyone thinks that they can get 99.999% of the benefits at 0% of the cost then they get crappy benefits.

        It's like a potluck. Yeah if nobody brings anything you all go hungry, but if enough people bring something, the moochers can bring nothing and still eat like kings.

      • "Yes, the argument is that it's more economical to contribute to a healthy OSS ecosystem than it is to either leech off of an unhealthy OSS ecosystem or buy proprietary."

        And that sentence basically sums it up. It's not about the contracts specified with open source, it's about morals.

        Either you really believe in whatever the license that is attached to the open source says or you have a cultish view of who is good and bad by whether they're 'doing their share' or some such determined by behavior that
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      making actual contributions takes time and isn't really high in the list of companies priorities

      It saves money if you are using LGPL - maintaining a public fork isn't free, either. If you can get all of your changes accepted upstream, you don't have to bother distributing your changes - you can just point people to the upstream.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      The term Open Source was invented after the concept of freely available software. The original free software was not invented to free people from proprietary code but because people just didn't want to make it proprietary or they wanted to share. The first software created was free. Even Stallman didn't create the FSF in order to be anti-proprietary but to encourage the sorts of sharing attitude that was prevalent in the past.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Contributing back takes money

      No, it SAVES money. Big money.

      Here's how I rammed contributing patches thru at a former employer.

      Each piece of software we use has a centrally stored patch set. Patches are an unholy pain to deal with compared to regular self developed software, let say a labor cost ten times higher. unpatched code is for all intents and purposes practically free per line. Beancounters seem to believe all of this. It does sound reasonable. Or put in tabular format

      Line 1 ) $1 per line of patch per year
      Line 2 ) 10 cents

    • Contributing back takes money

      How does contributing a bug report cost money? Or a feature request? Or advocating for FOSS in meetings?

  • by bonch (38532) * on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:32PM (#37256382)

    The context of the statement was (intentionally) left out of the headline and summary. This isn't about end-users. Zemlin is talking about the financial incentive for contributing back to projects whose code a business or other organization is using. In other words, if your business tries to do things on its own, such as maintaining its own kernel, it's making an idiotic business decision because it's not benefiting from collective maintenance and improvement.

    Here is the relevant section in the article:

    Zemlin, who spoke with Network World editors at the recent LinuxCon event, used to preach that contributing back was important on moral grounds, as the "right thing to do." But now he says, "It doesn't matter. I don't care if anyone contributes back." Sooner or later, he believes contributing will become an obvious business decision. It's "not the right thing to do because of some moral issue or because we say you should do it. It's because you are an idiot if you don't. You're an idiot because the whole reason you're using open source is to collectively share in development and collectively maintain the software. Let me tell you, maintaining your own version of Linux ain't cheap, and it ain't easy," he says.

    He points out that Red Hat is one of the largest contributors to the kernel and also one of the most successful Linux distros. "So if some aren't giving back as much as others today, I just think it will naturally happen over time. It always is in their business interest to do so," Zemlin says.

    • by Shikaku (1129753) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:40PM (#37256500)

      Why isn't your quote the summary?

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      Ah thank you for pointing this out. See, that makes sense. What the summary says? Not so much. Here I was thinking Jim Zemlin was either a fanatic or an idiot himself. Turns out it's just a very, very bad summary.

    • "This isn't about end-users. Zemlin is talking about the financial incentive for contributing back to projects whose code a business or other organization is using [...] he believes contributing will become an obvious business decision"

      Which is only slightierly less stupid than if it were about "pure" end users. And then... Obvious!!!??? When has been "obvious" that the best offset for a situation is paying when you are not forced to?

      The prisioners' dilemma, discounted cash flows and all that jazz.

    • This isn't about end-users.

      Well, that's a relief. I'm introducing my mother to Linux, LibreOffice, and GIMP, and having to teach her C/C++, gdb, and Git on top of that might have been a deal-breaker.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Right, that being said, if you're a home user and you have the means, it's definitely a wise idea to contribute something to at least some of the products you're using. Even if it's only a fraction of the ones you use.

      Unfortunately, for some types of contributions, you aren't likely to get somebody to contribute the code for free. Usually it's something that's tedious or not particularly flashy. Sometimes it's an issue that only affects a small number of people.

  • Shockingly... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:33PM (#37256400)

    Hardcore open source (well, fill in anything here, but in this case it's an open source guy) advocate thinks doing thinks the way he thinks should be done is smart, and doing things other ways is stupid.

    For someone who's a professional advocate for Open Source, I don't think he makes a very compelling argument that it's in everyone's enlightened self-interest to give as well as take. Certainly I've seen better arguments to that effect in slashdot comments.

    • I wouldn't call myself a hard core open source advocate (can you write evil closed source software for profit and still be so?), but I tend to agree with him. If I use an LGPL library in my code and I find a bug and fix it, its in my best interest to report the bug back and get it rolled into the official distro. It doesn't cost me much of anything, and now I don't need to repatch when a newer improved version of the library comes out. I guess maybe if you're talking about developing whole features for i

      • by canajin56 (660655)
        Yes, that's exactly what he's saying. The summary cuts him off mid-point in order to get outraged ad impressions, but yeah, he's saying if you make a patch and don't try to contribute it upstream, you're making a poor business decision because you'll need to keep maintaining that patch on your own. He's not at all saying "Business X uses Linux on their workstations, they are idiots for not contributing to the kernel" Only if they're making custom patches that are general enough to warrant inclusion upstr
      • Where I'm at is I think this:

        If I use an LGPL library in my code and I find a bug and fix it

        is a big if.

        I would suspect that, for a majority of projects, the number of people who use the code and also will fix bugs in it is vanishingly small compared to the number who download and use the project.

        Which is why I don't find his argument very compelling. He's making an argument for an edge case of users and generalizing it to all users. Even as a professional developer I can honestly say I've never fixed a bug in open source code I've downloaded.

        In a sense, this is just

  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:34PM (#37256428)
    Not for trying to get money for the people you represent, but for calling people idiots and expecting them to open their wallets.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:35PM (#37256438) Homepage

    ...sometimes idiots *do* give back to free software.

  • ...the difference between open source and a proprietary model is to allow people to be idiots? Correct me if I'm wrong.
    • by kiwimate (458274)

      ...the difference between open source and a proprietary model is to allow people to be idiots? Correct me if I'm wrong.

      Correction coming.

      The difference between open source and a proprietary model is that you have to pay for the COTS proprietary system. This means the company will cover its costs and be able to pay their own developers, who will keep maintaining it.

      You do not have to pay for an open source system, but you're an idiot if you don't, because it's only by paying for it that the developers will be able to keep maintaining it.

      Alternately, you can choose to maintain it yourself, but you are also an idiot at that p

  • Here all along I thought we were a cut above the rest. Now we're idiots if we don't pony up. He's sounding like Steve Ballmer.
  • Guess I'm an idiot then......cause I haven't given anything for the Linux stuff I use.....or all those free Apps for my Mac and iOS device.

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      What custom patches have you written for your iOS and Linux applications, and why have you not contributed those patches? Is it because they were too specific for your needs to warrant inclusion upstream?
  • This open source mindset that you should give back. Is really a bad way to look at it.

    If you are just focused on giving back on Source Code or Money then he is not seeing the big picture.

    OpenSource Developers kinda scoff at the value of market share.

    The fact that someone is just using the product is giving back. Because it is one more person who will probably use the product again if they like it. They will use it in work where others will learn and use the product. Then at some point there will be a nee

  • by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:51PM (#37256630)

    Network World and /. have both given this story an unnecessarily inflammatory slant. Zemlin's argument is "Maintaining your own fork of Linux for your product or service is an absurdly large amount of work for precious little return - if you let your business put much time into such things when there's no benefit to your business maintaining its own fork; it could simply pass patches upstream and let upstream take on some of the maintenance worries, you're being an idiot".

    Arguably, there is some logic to this. Lots of companies sell Linux appliances - either as virtual appliances, pre-loaded on hardware or as embedded systems - make changes to lots of things but never submit patches upstream.

    I think I'm starting to see why corporate PR-spun statements are always so bland. There's no way a corporate PR department would let something like that through precisely because of the likelihood of such slanted articles resulting from it.

  • I always thought of reporting bugs to the developers as a way of giving back. If I were a developer, I'd be grateful to every bug report. But with the recent debate about the long list of unconfirmed Firefox bugs, I now begin to feel like someone who asks for free lunch. That's an unfortunate trend. That way, I'll end up figuring out a workaround to the problem and keep it to myself. Wasn't the idea that the wheel shouldn't be invented again and again one of the main reasons to adopt and advocate FOSS?
    • Absolutely. Tripping over a bug and submitting a good bug report is quite valuable. If you can include the necessary information to reproduce the bug then you have gone way more than halfway towards fixing the bug.

      With modern linux distributions you don't need to be a technical expert to file a bug. The system will catch the crash automatically and hold your hand as you prepare the bug report, and then it will submit the report for you. It's not hard at all, and will pay off directly for you, if the dev

  • most open source utilising services don't contribute back and they don't even need to give source to users.

    why? because the "software" runs on their server machines, they never give the software away, they just give access to using that software. this web 5.0 stuff just pushes more sw to that road.

  • ...I guess my choice is clear.
  • The fact that we can talk to Linux users contributing back to the community is a wonderful thing, because how many software vendors will accept anything more than feature requests and bug reports from its customers and distributors.

    Yet I also think that this idea of reciprocity is dangerous. It is great that Red Hat contributes code for code, but what is wrong with Ubuntu packaging up the system in a palatable form in exchange for code? Or, to go further afield and look at the user (yes, I know that the ar

    • The problem with, say Ubuntu, packaging a lot of open source software without contributing upstream is that Ubuntu doesn't just package the software unmodified, they make changes to add desired features, fix bugs, and get different pieces of software to integrate better. But, since they don't contribute many of their changes upstream, the upstream developers will change the software without any regard for whether the downstream Ubuntu patches, so if the Ubuntu people want to pull in a new version of the up
  • Great engineers write code because they love to and cant stop. Mediocre and lousy engineers write code (for some reasons) so they get ego points "contributing" to open source and hope to pad their resume. The great engineers then have to evaluate and fix their lousy code. Or it slips by and the whole suffers. I would love help from the great engineers for my open source projects but would prefer no help at all from the rest. Even then it will take work to make sure its up to my standards or biased egot
    • by Anonymous Coward

      incredibly fucking awesome engineers get paid megabucks to do their job and then they jump in their Ferrari, go home to their lingerie model wife, get a blowjob right before their private chef serves them their meal, and then, if he's in the mood, bangs her sister - the swim suite model - while the wife watches and masturbates.

      BTW, you'll never see them post on Slashdot because:
      They're creating awesome World saving software
      They're shopping for a new Ferrari
      Banging their model Wife or her sister or her linge

  • "Submit a patch" is open source's way of telling you to fuck off.

    Submitting a bug report usually gets some response like expecting the user to build the thing from the source repository and repeat the bug.

  • Everyone seems to be insulted, and no one read the article.

    The title of this post is way too inflammatory. I suppose it would be OK if everyone read the article, but they are already pissed off. All the non-programmers (and some of the programmers) feel they have been directly insulted. And without the context of the article, they have.

    Basically it's a troll that evoked a flame war, it should not have been posted that way.

  • ...read a slashdot summary and automatically assume it represents the article, the truth, or any combination thereof and then go off half cocked with their posts.

    The article makes a relevant point; if you don't contribute IN SOME WAY to something that helps your business or organization perform or compete, then you are an idiot because you are shooting yourself in the foot. It's why I got involved with the projects I have in the past, it's why I try to stay involved in Joomla!; namely because they benef
    • by kiwimate (458274)

      ...read a slashdot summary and automatically assume it represents the article, the truth, or any combination thereof

      Then why even have a summary?

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