Money, Not Spare Cycles, Drives Open Source Wired Magazine editor, Chris Anderson, recently published an article on his blog, The Long Tail, suggesting that, much as spare CPU cycles drive projects like SETI, human “spare cycle” are powering the open source movement and Web 2.0. It’s a really nice metaphor, the problem is, for large open source projects anyway, it isn’t true.While Anderson’s theory may explain smaller open source projects and web 2.0 sites like Flickr, big open source projects, like the Linux kernal, are built not by the mythical open source volunteer, but by paid programmers working for large corporations.Jonathan Corbet of LWN.net released a study a couple of months ago that pegged corporate contributions to the Linux kernal at 65 percent. The breakdown of corporations involved included Red Hat with far and away the most contributions, along with IBM, Novell, the Linux Foundation (which employs Torvalds), Intel, and Oracle.More recently OpenSUSE released a survey of users which found that very few of them actually work on the distribution. 84.7 percent are simply users of the distribution. Only 1.9 percent actually create new programs, and just 0.9 percent work on patches. The salient point isn’t that open source is somehow tainted by corporate involvement, but rather that open source is ultimately a capitalist venture like any other software.I’ll confess the Anderson’s notion of volunteers creating software in their spare time has more appeal, though like the blogger at Neosmart, I disagree that it’s out of boredom.Which brings me to the best part of the open source community. Open source’s brilliance is not that it’s created by volunteers, but that it could be created by volunteers. Unlike proprietary software, with closed teams of programmers, open source projects are open to any contribution.Just because the majority of the Linux kernel comes from corporate employees doesn’t mean that those contributions are the most significant.
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