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Open Source Software Contributor Demographics

In the “Linux hack attempt” thread, FullNameRequired wrote: “most of the fulltime OSS already have jobs..they are being paid to work on the OSS project they are working on.”

This brings up a very interesting point for me. What are the demographics of the Open Source Software contributors? Is FullNameRequired’s comments true? Do full time OSS folks get paid to do their work? Is this a very small percentage of total OSS contributors? Is the majority of the lines of code done during volunteer hours or paid hours?

As my company is switching to using more and more OSS in the enterprise, I get annoyed that they benefit from other people’s work and contribute nothing back. Doesn’t this break the spirit of why there is the FSF and OSS? My annoyance with OSS has been because, IMHO, this contributes to the commoditization of my skill. Why should my employer pay me to build XYZ when they can download it and install it for free? I have seen my employers expectations go from paying top dollar for a RDBMS to expecting to pay not much more than the hardware costs because they can download a DB for free. How many times have companies and governments played the OSS card with Microsoft to get them to waive their strict licensing?

None of that may strike you as being a bad thing, and bringing down the overall cost of products is probably good for the economy overall. I guess this would all be much more palatable to me if I knew business was footing the bill for OSS software and not volunteers. The way corporations behave these days, I would hate to see so many volunteer hours being given to them as a corporate charity. Is there a sense in the OSS community that they are being taken advantage of, or do they think so strongly of their “pay for support” model that they feel justified?

m
Thursday, November 13, 2003

m, your economic analysis is basically correct. Our work and skills are being devalued for and by other sectors of the economy. To say this might be better for the economy does not hide the fact that it's bad for us, a significant and important part of the economy.

Most sectors of the economy actively work to maintain their value in the economy, even artificially. Software developers as a group have failed to do this.

Long term, the commoditising of software development will actually harm the economy, because it will remove incentives for the best people to become developers. This will rob the economy of productivity enhancing skills and technologies.

.
Friday, November 14, 2003

http://www.osdn.com/bcg/  is a survey about the topic

Mike
Friday, November 14, 2003

"Is FullNameRequired’s comments true?"

how could you doubt me? 

aww, all right, I admit I have no idea whatsoever whether its true or not, but I strongly suspect it is...that must make it _nearly_ as good as a hard fact, surely?

"Do full time OSS folks get paid to do their work?"

the trouble with that question is that its very broad.
If you narrow the scope down a bit to something like: "Do fulltime OSS developers who are actually working on something that you and I might find useful get paid to do their work?"  then on the whole the answer is yes...if you look at the top developers/contributors for things like apache, mysql, Linux, gnu etc etc then they are almost all being paid for their time by companies with an interest in having that software perform well.


"Doesn’t this break the spirit of why there is the FSF and OSS?"

<g> depends largely on what you consider the spirit to be.
The _point_ of free software was originally not that it be given away (thats largely an accidental sideeffect) but that it be 'free' in the best sense of the word...ie, free for the users to use as if it belonged to them, by copying it, looking at the source, giving it away to their friends, improving it, rewriting it etc etc etc.

Personally I have a lot of sympathy for that idea (tempered by the fact that I _am_ a contract developer and that I have already begun to have to compete with OSS.)


" this contributes to the commoditization of my skill"

not entirely..it depends largely on what you see your skills as being.

"Why should my employer pay me to build XYZ when they can download it and install it for free?"

exactly, why should they.  If all you are doing is writing software that has already been written before then thats (a) pretty depressing and (b) fairly pointless.
(equally if all you are now doing is downloading and installing OSS then I suspect it _is_ time for your job to be made redundant)

as a developer its my job to provide my clients with the best solutions possible for their money, if I can fulfill their needs quickly and simply with OSS then thats exactly what I should do.
They will pay me whatever, and I can get on with doing the interesting stuff...writing the software that does things the currently available OSS does not provide.

"I have seen my employers expectations go from paying top dollar for a RDBMS to expecting to pay not much more than the hardware costs because they can download a DB for free"

which is, IMO, good for all of us...good for the economy even, they can now take that money they would have saved and either (a) use it to fulfill more software requirements...providing other programmers with more interesting work or (b) give it back to their shareholders, distributing more money about the economy.
all good :)

" How many times have companies and governments played the OSS card with Microsoft to get them to waive their strict licensing?"

who cares?  its not my job to encourage my clients to support MS..its my job to help them get the best possible system for their money.  That may involve using OSS or it may not, depending on their requirements.


"Is there a sense in the OSS community that they are being taken advantage of, or do they think so strongly of their “pay for support” model that they feel justified?"

<g> depends largely on the OSS community member that you talk to.

On the whole my impression is that most of them dont give a rats arse one way or the other.  They didn't care what companies did before Linux became popular, and mostly they still dont care what other companies do.


Overall I dont stress much about the idea of software being 'commoditized',  my experience is that most companies have more computer work and ideas for using computers to make their lives easier than they have money to pay for it. 
Ive started using OSS where its appropriate and mostly the companies come back and say "oh good, that was cheaper than we expected. now thats done can you ...." and bingo they have moved outside of the OSS useful stuff and I have more work :)

Economic theory teaches that where above normal profits are being made in an industry, other investors will charge in until over the long haul the market 'normalises'.
I think its fair to say that companies like MS, and various others made well above 'normal' profits for a long while, and also that many programmers have done very well.
I personally see the gradual encroaching of OSS as being a part of a 'normalisation' period....
or, to look at it another way, we are _finally_ getting reusable code :)

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 14, 2003

When it comes to open source, in pretty much all cases the demographics aren't the idealist volunteer type. In pretty much all cases, the people working on the code have selfish motivations for doing so - the most common being "I use this product in my work", the other being "it helps my career and get my name known". Bugs are usually found by the coders using the product in their work, which ties in with one of Joels articles which states that you should never bet your job on code that you don't have the source to.

Rhys Keepence
Friday, November 14, 2003

BTW - I still don't understand why people think that open source is cutting into their pay cheque. Open source is almost made up entirely of reusable commodity code - stuff that is a dead bore to write more than once. Why are we glad that Microsoft gives us Jet and the MFC and all the rest, for free no less, but we despise those hippie open source programmers for daring to give us something for free.

We should all go back to the days when we had to write our own GUI, that'll fix this economy right up.

Let's get over it and use open source as an advantage to us all.

Rhys Keepence
Friday, November 14, 2003

You guys really don't get it.  The whole reason there are "Professional Open Source" companies is because its in ALL of our best interest to commodatize software.  Sure, if you guys work on DB2 or IIS, yeah, sucks to be you cause MySql and Apache are sure nice.  But i'm guessing most of us are paid to code web or desktop applications.  The more companies that can afford relational databases, web servers, and whatnot, the more jobs there are for people to maintain, customize, and develop for them. 

vince
Friday, November 14, 2003

"The more companies that can afford relational databases, web servers, and whatnot, the more jobs there are for people to maintain, customize, and develop for them. "

nicely said :)

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 14, 2003

What OSS? You have the big few: Linux, Apache etc. wich seem to be developed primarily by companies trying to commoditize software in the hope of increasing the value of their own stuff (services, hardware etc.).
Then you have the bulk of OSS of questionable quality that is mainly developed by "volunteers", usually some CS students and the occasional hobbyist.

BTW. I don't believe in the "communicating vessels" theory. From what I have observed a reduction in the hardware/software budget usually does not increase, but goes hand in hand with a reduction in the personel/services budget.
Think about it: if you buy a cheaper car do you up the budget for the cars maintainance?

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, November 14, 2003

To answer the question originally posed, I found the following in an "open source" demographics googling.

* The classic "Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software ... " co-sponsored by OSDN and Boston Consulting Group:

http://freesoftware.mit.edu/online_papers.php

Search for the updated version (September 2003) from Lakhani, Karim R & Bob Wolf. I read the original version when it was published and found it quite useful.

* "Introduction to Open Source Communities" based on different non-SF projects.

http://www.blueoxen.org/research/00007

Terry B. Barry
Friday, November 14, 2003

"Think about it: if you buy a cheaper car do you up the budget for the cars maintainance?"

Ahhh... YES!  I definitely would plan to pay more in maintenance for an 8-year old, $3000 car than a I would for a new $20000 car.

T. Norman
Friday, November 14, 2003

>"From what I have observed a reduction in the hardware/software budget usually does not increase, but goes hand in hand with a reduction in the personel/services budget."

That may be true, but the reduction in the personnel budget would often be greater if the hardware/software remained as expensive.

T. Norman
Friday, November 14, 2003

To compare Apache against IIS is OK, and is probably in favor of Apache (unless you need web application building, when you should compare Apache+PHP against IIS+ASP.NET).

But to compare DB2, probably the most robust and highest-performing database that is, against the lame excuse for a database that mySQL is - that's absurd.

Proklet
Friday, November 14, 2003

"That may be true, but the reduction in the personnel budget would often be greater if the hardware/software remained as expensive."

Two companies with the same operating expenses and revenues are developing the same web-based solution.

Company A plans to use an Oracle 10g cluster.

Company B plans to use MySQL.

Which company do you think will budget more for support/development personnel?

Philo

Philo
Friday, November 14, 2003

Now both company A and company B need to reduce their overall IT spending, say, by 10%, due to market conditions.

Company A can't really renegotiate with Oracle, and can't bail out of most contracts. So the cut comes _mostly_ from cutting off personel. Possibly 30% of the people to reach a 10% reduction in spending.

Company B let's go 15% of the personel go, because most of the costs are people costs, rather than licensing costs.

Not to mention ......

Company B probably couldn't afford Oracle in the first place, so they would have budgeted 0, if these were the only two options, and probably failed some business objectives.

And, the ratio of A companies to B companies is probably 1:1000 or so; Company B describes every 5-people or more operation. Company A is usually a well funded company, with IT and HR infrastructure in place to support an Oracle installation.

Free software drives the retail price of many products down to their real value in classic economy terms: nearly zero. Someone is willing to give it for you free of charge, and can actually sustain doing that financially. That establishes economical value. That someone is willing to do that, because, all factors considered, it benefits them in some way or another, financial, moral, ethical, ego-boosting or whatever.

That does not mean all software can, or should, be free (as in beer). But the success of the free and open source movements is actually a result of capitalism and an efficient market. And large enough markets tend to become efficient unless there is a monopoly or regulation that stops it from being efficient.

Most commercial software is overpriced; Some free software is underpriced. The market is already working to equalize things, with companies like RedHat making good money on free software, and companies like Microsoft dropping the cost of a $200 product down to $40 to remain competitive.

Ori Berger
Friday, November 14, 2003

> Why are we glad that Microsoft gives us Jet
> and the MFC and all the rest, for free no less,
> but we despise those hippie open source
> programmers for daring to give us something
> for free.

You really want to know why?

Because the OSS programmers have a barbarian attitude.

If I tell OSS programmers that I write closed source software that I SELL, they say that I'm evil!

I guess they are programming from their parents' basement, and envy me for living in a nice house.

So - they are aggressive, and try to write free software which will put me out of business - because they want to see me living in my parents' basement, too.

Yeah - it's cool to be a hippy, and live w/o any money.

Yeah - OSS rules!!!

John K.
Friday, November 14, 2003

Research by the OSS community itself shows that most contributions to OSS come from CS students in West Europe!


Why is this? Because in most of those countries (Germany, for example) university is free, and there is a strong social security system - even if they won't get a job, they won't become homeless or something, but simply live on social security aid.

That means they simply don't have to worry about money. They have very little money worries.

So - they write free software as a hobby, and spoil the market for those of us who write software in order to make a living.

John K.
Friday, November 14, 2003

"RedHat making good money on free software"

Euh, no? Why is their RHEL product more expensive than the equivalent Windows?
But who cares? It is all just different business models around IT systems. The "common off the shelf" (COTS) model successfully replaced the extremely expensive custom solutions for common applications because it could offer better value. The brewsed but far from beaten custom model is now hitting back by trying to bait you back into a services model.

At the moment we are in a very shady area. Lots of newspeak about. Socalled "free" solutions are sold at even higher prices by corporations with track records of extortionst lockin. Those companies claim the COTS companies that drove down the prices of IT solutions might one day raise the prices of the now cheap of the shelf products.

In an ideal world the overall best model might win. In our world where markets are about as transparant as lead lining issues are decided by the blind leading the blind urged on by one-eyed crooks wearing rosy perfume.

Just this weak I read a report of a goverment service halting delivery of an ordered IT system (ordered by the previous term office) based on technical merits (it was a Windows based solution). When challanged the government service had to admit it had not a single IT expert on staff.
That is our world.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, November 14, 2003

"You really want to know why?
Because the OSS programmers have a barbarian attitude.
If I tell OSS programmers that I write closed source software that I SELL, they say that I'm evil!"

Why don't you talk to OSS programmers that are actual programmers and not browse on Slashdot.

In my job, I use Linux, Apache, and PHP.  Let see, PHP developers are paid to develop it and they sell closed source applications (IDE, debugger, etc).  So they don't really care.  Apache isn't GPL; it's the Apache license.  The first release of Apache 2.0 was a closed source commercial product by some company (I forget the name).  Linux is typically pretty open source; but Linus himself doesn't give a crap. 

Seems like a lot of anti-OSS comments on this board have no basis in reality.  It's not like OSS is going to take your job away...

Almost Anonymous
Friday, November 14, 2003

I use open source every day.

My program is closed source.

Its not hard, ya know.

Every project that is actually doing something and being used by people doesn't require anyone to statically link to it or isn't under the  GPL in the first place.

Sure, if I change the library or original code, I usually have to give my changes back, but that strikes me as rather fair.

Alex
Friday, November 14, 2003

People programming on the cheap, and undercutting their competitors?!

I believe this is known as "capitalism" :)

Insert half smiley here.
Friday, November 14, 2003

No, no. Don't you understand? It's *immoral* to write software and then just *give it away*! I mean, can you imagine what would happen to the web browser industry if someone did that?

Chris Hoess
Friday, November 14, 2003

"""Long term, the commoditising of software development will actually harm the economy, because it will remove incentives for the best people to become developers. This will rob the economy of productivity enhancing skills and technologies."""

That's a fallacy; it assumes that the "best" developers become so because they're interested in making lots of money.  I know for a fact that this is false.  The "best" programmers, just like the "best" in almost every field of endeavor, are people who would do it in their spare time if they couldn't make a living at it.

So, removing a premium on development work would only discourage people who don't have any intrinsic interest in doing development.

Phillip J. Eby
Friday, November 14, 2003

"commoditising of software development will actually harm the economy"

This is very stupid.  We've been commoditising software since software has existed.  When was the last time anybody wrote a sort routine from scatch?  A hash table?  Code to write text to the screen?  Imagine all things you don't build from scatch everyday.  All these prebuild tools and libraries that are essentially free. 

Now just add operating systems, web servers, programming environments, etc.  All this stuff if commoditised so we can get working on important things.

Almost Anonymous
Friday, November 14, 2003

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