Misperceptions of Open Source

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Tim Bray writes to correct misperceptions of what “Open Source” is about.

They both paint a picture of misguided innocents who believe in some starry-eyed vision of post-capitalist intellectual collectivism, but are actually pawns in the hands of larger economic forces. They’re both really wrong. Granted: Open Source is not a nation or a corporation or a political party or a religion. (While there are “movement people”, organized into the skeptical-of-each-other Open Source and Free Software sects, they are a tiny—albeit noisy—minority.) Absent those things, what is left? A collection of people who like working on software and actively seek out opportunities, preferably but not necessarily paid, to do so. If that is isn’t a “community”, what is?

Tim hits it on the mark. If Subtext is a pawn in some larger economic force, I’d be curious to find out which major corporate power seeks to gain, and perhaps ask them for some funding. ;)

In truth, there are many reasons people work on open source software, and they are not all the same. Many just find it fun to work on something more interesting than the boring data-in data-out systems they build at work. Some want to have a hand in building a better mousetrap. Many enjoy participating in a community and perhaps gaining a bit of recognition among their peers. A few see it as a political movement against capitalist interests. Yet others are paid to work on open source projects as it benefits their employer. None of these reasons are inherently wrong, misguided or amoral.

Many of these articles criticising open source focus on the big projects. What they fail to look at is that the majority of open source projects are very small. Many fill very niche markets that corporations have no interest in filling, but that there is yet a long-tail demand for.

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3 responses

  1. Avatar for Steve Harman
    Steve Harman January 16th, 2006

    I couldn't agree more. What motivates participants in the "Open Source Community," as it were, varies greatly as you look across the wide landscape of open source projects. Sure the _big_ OSS projects like Apache, Eclipse, *nix, etc... are going to draw a lot of attention from more commercial groups because they see benefit (read: profit) in those projects. And yes, the participants in the smaller/niche (yet far more numerous) projects are often motivated by the factors you listed above. I think that many do want to "work on something more interesting than the boring data-in data-out systems they build at work."



    While my real J-O-B isn't just a data-in data-out system, its not a free-form and open to change as subText is. And I enjoy that aspect of the subText project. Though, I will have to admit that it is also nice to get a little recognition from peers :)



    -Steve

  2. Avatar for Joe Brinkman
    Joe Brinkman January 16th, 2006

    I personally think that many developers could dramatically improve their skills by working on a medium sized OS project. I have learned more by working on DotNetNuke than I ever learned in working on my regular job. You come in contact with a much broader range of developers than you ever will in an office setting, and you are exposed to a broader range of thinking. In my office, the closest I ever came to some of the best and brightest in the development community was seeing someone speaking onstage or reading their book/blog. Since working on an OS project, I have had the opportunity to trade ideas with some of the best .Net developers in the world.



    OS expands your world beyond the four walls of your cubicle and that is a very good thing.

  3. Avatar for you've been HAACKED
    you've been HAACKED November 3rd, 2006

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