What motivates Open source contribution ?

This post is in response to a notion I encountered more than once, by different people (blogs) at difference times. The argument here is : as more and more people start losing their jobs due to the Financial turmoil thats taking place in the world today, the number of open source contributions will increase since people will have more FREE time on their hands to waste.

This argument was made by one Mr.Andrew Keen who thinks the current economy is about to “Give Open Source a good thumping

My first reaction when I read this article was  : 1) this guy obviously hates open source software, and 2) This guy’s an idiot.

If you take a look at the comments section on his post, you will realise I am not the only one who thinks so.

But the best response is given by Steven J. Vaughan-Nicholas of ComputerWorld.

Steven corrects Andrew’s assumption that only people with free time and who do not care about money are contibuting to open source. The real-world stats about the actual code contributors to the Linux Kernel , Linux Foundation’s recently released report that it would have cost more than $10 Billion dollars to develop an Open source distribution like Fedora and, Jerrry Allison’s leaving Novell only to join Google, all make up a great counter-argument to Andrew’s obviously less thought-out post.

I agree to all these claims, including ones made by commentors on Andrew’s post about how the US Army and other government organizations also sponsor open source development. Open source is no longer a hobby project of some group of geeky students.

Open Source is serious business. A lot, and I mean a LOT of businesses , educational institutions and research work are completely dependent on open source software and it’s development. Sun’s acquisition of MySQL for a whooping $1 billion , the profit figures of companies like Canonical, Red Hat, SugarCRM , Alfresco, etc. are clear indications that open source can be an immensely profitable venture.

However, the true beauty of the open source software “movement” is that an unpaid, enthusiast student can be just as much a contributor to a project as a highly paid engineer at a multi-national company.

The “non-paid” contributors to open source software (and not just the Linux kernel , as pointed out by Steven), must be far more than paid contributors. I base this not on some hard statistical date but by a simple glance at free open source hosted repositories like SF, Google Code, Freshmeat, Savannah, etc.

Although a monetory payment is a huge motivation for contributing to open source software, I hope that “writing great software” keeps remaining the major impetus for it. 

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8 Responses

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  4. Tejas Desai Says:


    The whole point of open source– the reason any open source project exists– is to save us time. To keep us from rewriting the same software over and over. It’s exactly what open source is about: maximum benefit, minimum effort.

    The highest compliment you can pay any piece of open source software is to simply use it, because it’s worth using. The more you use it, the more that open source project becomes a part of the fabric of your life, your organization, and ultimately the world.

    Isn’t that the greatest contribution of all?

    Every contribution not only helps in a small way to keep the project viable, but it improves the software for your own purposes. It is an entirely selfish benefit. I personally thank to all those Open source contributors who often create substantial bodies of code, which are made widely available when completed.

    Open Source Is Free Like A Flower – Rob Walling

  5. anuz Says:

    IMHO, This may sound too cliched but freedom is one of the greatest factor which is driving open source. I mean it gives great satisfaction that you are creating something, which just not only is working for you and at the same time it is benefiting others . The growth of open source is mostly because of independence of promulgating your idea and getting it accepted by like minded people.
    Now everything have some or the other financial impact, open source in no different. Now I guess its running many business related softwares on the top of it, and people are making money out of all this free thing, thats okay.
    By the way, the idiot, who said all the crap about recession and free time fails to understand the spirit of open source.
    But nevermind, no body gives a damn about such pricks.

  6. Logic Says:

    Do you keep your job with Indian service company ?

  7. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    If you want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Decent info, but I have to go to that damn msn to find the missed pieces. Thank you, anyway!

  8. Dee Says:

    I like how this article didn’t answer the question: “What motivates open source contribution?”

    Actually, it’s what made me hate wasting my reading that (since I just need a simplistic answer I can quote for my essay) -_-

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