What motivates Open source contribution ?
November 2, 2008
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.
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.