Crossings: No Room For Idealism
No Room For Idealism

In Getting paid for free software, Brandon Franklin gets a bit shrill and represents a non-viable way to support opensource.

Hear me loud and clear: OPEN SOURCE DEVELOPERS DESERVE TO BE PAID. Cash money. In our pocket. Today. Yesterday! Even in a Socialist system, the individual is expected to be able to survive as a result of their contributed work.

This is the sort of opensource idealism that can frighten corporations. If you are indeed attempting to profit from opensource, in effectively a capitalistic economy, raising the image of socialism is taboo. He presents a specious argument that first assumes that the opensource project will generate sales revenue.

For example: “UltraSoft's BigEngine Project” pays on a per-line basis. Bob Olsen contributes 1000 lines of code to the project, and Kelly Jones contributes 500 lines of code. 200 of Kelly's 500 lines, though, replaced some of Bob's, and this was approved by all parties. In the end, Bob has 800 Line Credits, and Kelly has 500. This means the total Line Credits are 1300, of which Bob has 61.5%, and of which Kelly has 38.5%. When the product ships, it has $10,000 of sales in the first week. Assuming there were no other developers involved, Bob would take home $6150, and Kelly $3850.

First, let's examine this outside of opensource but in the corporate world. The corporation is the entity that makes money from the license revenues. They pay their developers with a paycheck (a form of rewarding value) and possibly shares or options in the company (rewarding contributed value with ownership).

Now, let's go back to Franklin's scenario, where apparently there is still a corporation of some sort collecting the sales revenue (possibly from a dual-licensed project such as MySQL). If the firm values the contributions of Bob and Kelly, they can still hire them, give them a short-term contract, or draft them into the organization as share-holding developers. But this is true of any project and any developer. There is nothing inherent in the problem that makes opensource projects a special case.

Opensource hackers, instead, seem to value their own contributions greater than the market does. Adding a sense of political or economic idealism to an already inflated ego has caused more than a few ventures to fail. While many claim that opensource is an economic revolution, its power is still truly only realized by how it affects capitalistic goals. As companies discover the economic and competitive advantages of working with opensource communities and projects, they also discover a way to make more money. It's only natural to reward those who enable more profits. Bob and Kelly will be compensated through consulting contracts or employment. Or even Bob and Kelly could cut out the middle man and go to market with their own corporate entity attempting to make a profit.

In opensource, there cannot be a sense of entitlement due for the social good produced by the community. Those who contribute real monetary value will be snatched up by those who reap the value, such as Gluecode (Apache-Geronimo developers), JBoss (JBoss, Tomcat, Hibernate developers), or Sun (RollerWeblogger developer). Never confuse effort with value. The market does not reward effort by developers but will justly reward value.


December 22, 2004

Hi Bob, interesting collection of articles showing up: keep up the good work! If you're looking for cases of small companies trying to make money on open source development, please review my recent interviews @,39026582,39225378,00.htm and,39026582,39229656,00.htm

Cheers, Steven.

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EuroOSCon: Amsterdam, October 17-20
Opensource Conference in Europe
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The conference slides are now available.