Open Source convention: you have to have a good reason not to open the source

by Andy Oram

The news over the past few years in open source establish it as the natural way to release software. If there's anything else you can do to earn money--whether setting up a social environment like Second Life, putting up ads like Google, or selling hardware like Intel--you really need to search hard for a reason to keep software proprietary. The benefits that free software reaps from contributions and community are demonstrated beyond a doubt, and the mechanism for releasing software as open source is now familiar.

Here's my wrap-up of the Open Source convention. I published an earlier blog on it as well.


2007-07-28 13:03:46
Most companies will not release their software into the open source for one simple reason: return on investment. When you've invested 20 person-years of development into a product, tweaking and grooming it so that it is stable and user-friendly - then you're not going to let someone else copy the thing, paste their logo onto it and sell it while keeping you out of the profit loop.
Large companies that earn their money from consulting are able to give software away because they have a regular stream of incoming money. Small shops cannot afford to give away that source of income, as they have nothing to compensate for the loss of profit.
The license restrictions are all well and good, but very few have actually been tested in court. Not to mention that a small shop probably doesn't have the resources to actually defend its rights in court - especially not when the adversaries are large corporations.
Reality is that somewhere down the line, someone has to pay for the time and investment, as programmers need to put food on their tables as well.
2007-07-28 15:51:06
@OSsceptic, most companies in the world by far never sell software. It's not their business at all. Nick Carr goes into far more detail on this.
2007-07-29 05:11:03

Obviously I was referring to software companies, who are not all eager to open up their source code. Nick Carr has a good point that for most companies on the planet (except for software companies themselves IMHO), software and information technology are a commodity. For software companies, however, it's their life artery.
Everyone is free to choose open- or closed-source software to use in their company. Likewise, every software company is free to make their source public or keep it private. Titles like this article's make it sounds like a software company has to apologize for not sharing the source, regardless of the resources (time, money, blood, sweat and tears) that have been poured into it.

2007-07-30 17:06:30
You have got the wrong end of the stick here. What Skype has done, is take someone else's open source code, modify parts of it and not make those modification available under the same GPL terms they received the bulk of the code they use which is released under GPL by others. If Skype wanted to not GPL their modified code, that is their right, but they would then have to rewrite the bulk of the code they use, which I suspect would not be a viabile exercise compared with getting it as a GPL freebie.

In any case I don't think the spat is a major one. Skype wants to GPL the code. It is simply the means by which the code is made available that is being disputed. The whole thing seems to be a case of splitting hairs.

Dennis Byron
2007-07-31 05:01:14
"Percentage of programmers that earn their living writing packaged software."

Andy, Statistics are made to contribute to manipulation and I may be doing that inadvertently because I have not read the reports you talk about by Ghoush and ESR. But from my former work on the Worldwide Programmer Census published by IDC, I can point your readers to a publicly available source on the subject ( Based on that U.S. Department of Labor source, the statement in your story that "only a few percent of programmers earn their living from creating packaged software" is not correct, at least in the U.S.

The government says there are 400,000 programmers in the U.S and that more than a third of them are in the industry "Computer Systems Design or Related Services" and/or work for "Software Publishers." Even if the government is off by half, that's hardly "a few percent." If you count what the government calls Computer Software Engineers for both Applications and Systems Software, which I would recommend, you see similar percentages.

Again, your sources could be using other data and other methodologies but I tend to believe the Department of Labor numbers at least for the U.S. In addition, when you think about it, even if you're not creating packaged software you're working with it and could not be accomplishing your job without it. So the idea that everyone can create their own wheel and that that would be good for economic growth doesn't compute.