Criticism of Open Source

Via Futurismic I found this criticism of open source. I have to say that I found it very oddly all or nothing. The author seems to think that there is nothing between being a wild-eyed “everything must be free” type who has no job to remain uncorrupted by the real world, and becoming a paid cog in the wheel writing only closed software forever. Here’s a key paragraph:

The whole thing about “free software” is a lie. It’s a dream created and made popular by people who have a keen interest in having cheap software so that they can drive down their own cost and profit more or by people who can easily demand it, because they make their money out of speaking at conferences or write books about how nice it is to have free software. At the bottom of the food chain are people like you, who are easily fooled by the “let’s make the world a better place” rhetoric and who are so enthusiastic about technology that writing open-source – or any source for that matter – is the absolutely best imaginable way to spend their time. It doesn’t matter whether you love what you are doing and consider this the hobby you want to spend 110% of your time on: It’s exploitation by companies who are not at all interested in creating stuff. They want to use your stuff for free. That’s why they trick you into doing it.

I find the whole “you get tricked into writing free software” notion so bizarre as to defy comment. There are many many ways to make money writing open source “free” software. I always like the free product/non-free consulting model used by MySQL, JBoss, Cayenne and many others. Some people are on salary with a company, writing open source software such as some of the developers on Eclipse and (I think) Google and others. Some found companies selling commercial software bent on making a value addition to the core project, be it an extension or a glue or some sort of enabling shell. Others write the definitive book on the project, like a Ted Husted on the Struts project on which he was also a contributor.

For the vast majority, though, they do it as a sidelight. They have a day job and also contribute to open source. I see no problem with that. I want to do more open source work, and this would be my model. What do I get out of it? Well, it all goes on my resume. I get some ego boost (not the primary motivator, but a non-zero one as well), and it makes me feel good. I’m not sure why Clemens feels this is all so negligible, or why there is nothing to be gained by developers only companies that benefit from their free work. I’m not a company and I benefit highly from the work put in by tens and hundreds of thousands of open source developers. When I start running OpenZaurus in a few days, I’ll be benefiting, as I do every time I use Linux, Hibernate, Struts, Eclipse, mysql, postgresql, fetchmail, emacs, and so on for dozen of pages. It’s not all or nothing, it’s building on the works of others. Everything is better for every programmer today – commercial or not – because of the open source contributions of the past and this trend only goes one way.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.