Money makes open source tick

Open source is not about peace-loving developers hacking their way to freedom. It's about corporations funding development that helps them serve customers and crush competitors.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay

I blogged Evangelia Berdou's Ph.D. thesis, "Managing the Bazaar: Commercialization and peripheral participation in mature, community-led Free/Open source software projects", way back in March, but apparently a few others (like OStatic and Joe Brockmeier at ZDNet) just came across it, as they've written up interesting perspectives on the research.

The gist of the research? Open-source developers are largely salaried to be such, at least on the most heavily used/developed projects. Joe gives good reasons for this:

  • Core contributions require more time and expertise than peripheral contributions.
  • Core contributors are desirable employees. Everyone wants to hire the contributors who can and do influence the projects.
  • Volunteers can work on "peripheral" aspects of projects that can be performed in volunteer-sized chunks of time. Which is to say, a few hours a week on average.

As he says, "You get what you pay for." Anyone who still believes open source is a hippie phenomenon hasn't been paying attention. Money fuels Linux. Money fuels Apache. And so on.

The return on this open-source financial investment may not come directly in the form of royalties or license fees for most, but it is there. Otherwise the IBMs and Red Hats of the world wouldn't be investing so heavily in open source. Open source is about freedom, but it's more about the freedom to serve customers and crush competitors than many suspect.