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IT Giants Accused of Exploiting Open Source 511

An anonymous reader writes "A top European Commission official has accused major IT players such as IBM, HP and Sun of using the open source community as mere subcontractors rather than encouraging them to develop independent commercial products. Jesús Villasante, head of software technologies at the commission, said: 'The open source community today [is a] subcontractor of American multinationals. Open source communities need to take themselves seriously and realise they have contribution to themselves and society. From the moment they realise they are part of the evolution of society and try to influence it, we will be moving in the right direction.'"
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IT Giants Accused of Exploiting Open Source

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  • by spectrokid ( 660550 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @06:27AM (#12692327) Homepage
    He seems to forget a lot of OS software gets coded today by people who get a check for it. If half of the devellopers on a big project are paid by corporations, is it that difficult that the project does what the corporations want?
  • by SimianOverlord ( 727643 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @06:29AM (#12692332) Homepage Journal
    Big vendors may well presnt themselves as an open source "portal", saying "OK - you want open source; this is our IBM open source product..." but this is only slightly harmful now. I still believe the future development of open source is in the hands of individuals who are relatively uninfluenced by big business interests, focussing instead on the technology, and just making a better product. Plus, the open source community has this ingrained ethic about doing it yourself - the ability to fork at any time on a principled issue acts as a sort of safety valve.

    I guess an analogy is two fish swimming in a stream - at the moment the shark of big business is swimming alongside the remora of open source in the same direction, but should things change, both will take their gained advantages from the arrangement and swim away in different directions once more.

    However corporations package it, the community is strong to its principles and will not be subverted for capitalism. Contrary to what Villasante says, the open source community does not need to actively work to achieve social change - by its very nature any success it will accrue will do that job for it.
  • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @06:51AM (#12692410) Homepage
    (Taken from a presentation I made explaining open source as a development model for large businesses)...

    A common misconception about open source is that because it is "free" it is somehow a charity operation where programmers work bene-vola because they want "to contribute".

    This is, however, wrong. When Adam Smith said: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest", he was accurately describing a world in which self-interest creates mutually-beneficial structures.

    Open source contributors are attracted for different reasons, depending on how far they understand and identify with the technology at hand. We can identify the self-interest of each role, while seeing that the overall structure serves everyone:

    * "Users" will evangelise (seeking security in the company of others using the same technology).

    * "Power users" will help others who have problems (seeking the kudos that comes from helping others).

    * "Pundits" will discuss the technology in public forums (seeking the fame that comes from being able to accurately identify trends and future winners).

    * "Insiders" will take on parts of the testing process (seeking better familiarity with a technology that may become an important part of their skill set).

    * "Players" will delve into the technology itself, taking on smaller roles in the process (seeking the kudos and fame that can come from being on a winning team).

    * "Key players" will take on major roles in the project (seeking to impose their ideas, turn a small project into a major success, or otherwise earn a global reputation).

    * "Patrons" will provide financial support to the project (looking to sell services, often to the users, that require the technology to succeed and be widely used).

    The naive view of open source focuses only on the players, ignoring the wider economy of interests. A successful open source project must attract and support all these classes of people (and others, such as the "troll", who vocally attacks the project in public forums, thus stiffening the resolve of the users and pundits who defend it).

    Thus we can understand the needs of each role:

    * Users need a pleasant and impressive product so they can feel proud about showing it to others.

    * Power users need forums and mailing lists where they can answer questions.

    * Pundits need pre-packaged press releases, insider tips, and the occasional free lunch. Some controversy also helps.

    * Insiders need regular releases, frequent improvements, and forums where they can propose ideas for the project.

    * Players need extension frameworks where they can write their (often sub-standard) code without affecting the primary project.

    * Key players need badges of membership, and access to the right tools and support.

    * Patrons need a high-quality and stable product that supports their services and additional products.

    The only people working full time, and usually professionally, on an open source project are the key players. All the others will take part in the project as a side-effect of their on-going work or hobbies.

    While a traditional software company must pay everyone in this economy except the users, an open source economy must only pay the key players, who make up perhaps 2-5% of the total. Further, the key players will work for significantly less than the market rate, since they also derive a real benefit from working on successful projects, which I call the open source "payload". The most important part of a future programmer's CV is the section titled "Open Source Projects". This is the payload. It translates directly into dollars, proportional to the impact and importance of the open source projects involved.

    When compensation plus payload does not cover the cost of working on a project (in terms of loss of compensation for alternative work), the key player will suffer "burnout" after 12-18 months, more or less depending on the person's tenacity.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @07:07AM (#12692461)
    Check this out (cache) [], it's the same article title but the cache shows a different outcome. Did IBM pay off someone at ZDNet to re-write it?
  • by MartinG ( 52587 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @07:11AM (#12692479) Homepage Journal
    Nowadays we often _have_ to be "mere subcontractors" because of the ever looming threat of software patents. If the commission wants us to be more independent then create the legal framework to allow and and stop pushing for software patents.

    I don't know who in the EC wrote the directive but it certainly does NOT encourage open source developers to become more indepentent. It scares developers into only developing under the protection of their feudal lord (ie, a large company who can afford and is interested in wasting money on patents and patent litigation)
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @07:34AM (#12692567) Homepage Journal

    I actually went and read the article, and (surprise, surprise), Villasante is really not saying what Slashdot reports that he's saying.

    If you read the entire article, he's not specifically complaining that corporations are abusing the free coding of open source. What he is saying is that the corporations who release open source are also very responsible for lobbying for a lot of things that are later likely to inhibit open source development in the future. His working example is the European intellectual property legislation, that would ultimately inhibit open source in the wider view but is still being campaigned for by the likes of IBM and Sun.

    His point is that open source is the future of the software industry for Europe, yet by putting these laws in place that will give more power to the multi-national corportions, Europe is inhibiting its own future software industry.

    He's suggesting that open source developers are happily working with these corporations at ground level, but the same organisations might ultimately lead to a less productive open source model. This is what he means about the open source communities not taking himself seriously.

    I'm inclined to agree with him in many respects. Being able to develop in conjunction with businesses is a win-win scenario in terms of actually getting software developed, but we shouldn't necessarily ignore what else these businesses are doing just because they're cooperating in one aspect.

  • Yes, so what? (Score:3, Informative)

    by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <samwyse AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @07:44AM (#12692595) Homepage Journal
    Yes, the big companies are using open-source programmers as sub=contractors, but they are also paying them. And I don't mean the ones that get put on payroll, I mean each and every one. However, they aren't all made in money, some are paid in "intellectual property". (Yes, I hate the IP arguments as much as any of you, but I'm looking at this from the viewpoint of the big companies.)

    If I hire you as a sub-contractor, what you write isn't your property, it's mine. If, OTOH, you are an open-source programer, then what you write is shared by you and me. And if, as is normally the case, the code is made publicly available, it could be considered a charitable contribution, just as if you requested that some or all of your paychecks be sent to UNICEF or something.

    Admittedly, current accounting practices aren't set up to handle these types of values transfers, but that doesn't mean that they aren't occurring.

  • Adaptec et al (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:00AM (#12692677)
    Your precisely correct. Look at the work of the OpenBSD developers to open up hardware documentation. Recently they have worked on (since the vendors will not work with) Intel's Centrina and Adaptec's RAID controllers.

    The Linux crowd often doesn't get it. NDA == EVIL.
  • BS (Score:4, Informative)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:36AM (#12692886) Journal
    Look, I code for KDE and use KDE. I truly love it. But kword had absolutely NOTHING to do with OpenOffice being created. MS makes money on 2 products (and loses on almost all the rest); Windows and Office. If not for the monopoly on those 2 products, MS would have died long ago ( their code sux, their support is horrible, they really do not have original ideas, etc. etc.).

    Sun opened StarOffice in an effort to depieve MS of their monopoly. They also supported Linux for quite some time thinking that much of the sale would be in the MS market.

    OpenOffice/StarOffice is making inroads into industry. It is obvious that this idea is working the way that Sun meant it to. The Linux route, though, has been killing Sun as well as Windows. They never thought that Linux could compete in numbers (financial or benchmarks).

    With all that said, I do use and like kword. But every so often I use OO as it gets the job done nicely.
  • Re:The Inverse (Score:4, Informative)

    by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:44AM (#12692942)
    "On the one hand, successful open source development relies on the nature of man to contribute to a work without expecting a return - doing it just for the good of the community."

    This is 100% false. Open Source relies upon the nature of markets: contributing to the market with the expectation of equal or greater returns.

    Open Source isn't about altruism. Open Source functions because I have a need for software that doesn't exist, and I write that software (or portions of it). I expect my contribution to be used and improved on by others. Those improvements commonly occur in ways I either didn't expect, couldn't do myself, or simply didn't have the time to do. Those improvements may not even take place in the program that originated the code, but rather are implemented with pieces of my code that are put in unrelated software to which I later get access. Software that I wouldn't, or couldn't, have created myself is now available to me.

    This expectation has been borne out unfailingly over the years.

    That my contributions make the world a better place is a secondary concern. It's not that I don't care about making the world a better place, but normal rules of classical economics (i.e. the Invisible Hand) ensure that outcome. Which brings me to Free Software.

    Even Free Software, which is driven by philosophy, isn't at all related to Communism. Free Software is driven by the idea that, with the unspoken assumption that software plays a central role in modern society, no one should be beholden to the providers of software. Free Software strives to make the world a better place, but it is no more Communism than the desire for political Freedom is Communism. Both Free Software and the desire for political Freedom draw from the same source (pun intended).
  • Re:The Inverse (Score:5, Informative)

    by NickFortune ( 613926 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @08:49AM (#12692966) Homepage Journal
    As the article stated, open source programmers are being treat more a subcontractors

    That's right. Hardly a day goes by without IBM phoning me up, telling me what I have to write next, what coding style I must use and what format to use for the documentation. And they get really, really snotty if I blow the arbitarily short deadlines they set. I wouldn't be so bad if they didn't make me spend most of my day sitting in endless tedious meetings, and dealing with political crap that my boss can't be bothered to field because I'm only some scummy contractor...

    I've done actual, real world subcontracting. That's a little unfair to some of my employers since I've had some good bosses, but but I've also had gigs that weren't far off what I described above.

    I've written some open source software too. The experience is very different. I do what I want to do, according to my deadlines and my techniques. I write stuff that I will find useful, or in order to learn how do something. If other people find my work useful, that's how I measure the success of my labours.

    I've been a subcontractor and I've coded open source. The two experiences are very different.

  • Re:The Inverse (Score:3, Informative)

    by nickos ( 91443 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @11:19AM (#12694509)
    From what I have heard ESR/RMS are considering requiring companies who derive revenue from GPL'd code (Amazon & Google for example) to provide a revenue stream back to the authors. This is a terrible idea... it sounds like a way of limiting the usage.

    If so, I think the "Free" might go out of "Free Software."

    You're right, it is FUD - read this []
  • Re:The Inverse (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @11:40AM (#12694736)
    Using it internally isn't what's going to change. What's going to happen is that the "web app" loophole is going to be closed. In other words, if you have some application (e.g. Gmail) that's publicly-accessable but hosted on your servers, currently the code doesn't have to be released because the public isn't technically executing the program, even though they're using it. Version 3 will change it so that if the program is publically-accessable the code will have to be released, and whether it actually runs on the client or on the server doesn't matter.

    In your case, though, if those servers are only used within the company then it makes no difference, and there's no requirement to release the code.

    Of course, there is the question of stuff like webservers -- if you modify Apache* and serve public pages do you have to release the code? I think that gray area is what the people are working on GPL v.3 are trying to figure out.

    It seems reasonable to me...

    *yes, I'm aware that Apache isn't actually GPL. It's an analogy.
  • Re:EU Fearmongering- (Score:2, Informative)

    by mpapet ( 761907 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:55PM (#12696345) Homepage
    Wow. There are just soo many different ways this post is wrong wrong wrong.

    1. Europe is Economically Unhealthy
    I'd argue that they are doing just the opposite. Streamlining markets, simplfying trade, lowering tariffs. If they can keep the IP free, then they will really be into somethings. You've heard of the EU right? It may not be happening quickly, but there's no doubt it's changing.

    2. Europe is "losing" to the US
    No. I'd argue that currently both the EU and US are both constantly struggling to maintain GDP growth and maintain high(er)employment. This is not "losing." See #1 for why the EU's growth opportunities are very good. That you think the U.S. is somehow winning shows how much of the USA-is-#1 crack you smoke. It's 2005, not 1950.

    3. Subsidies EU-Yes US-no.
    This is plain wrong. The American economy is subsidized in -many- ways. They simply aren't as obvious to you.

    Please turn off the Fox News and learn a few *-facts-* regarding how the American economy operates.
  • by sirReal.83. ( 671912 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @06:04PM (#12699154) Homepage
    Red Hat employs an hacker.

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