Open Source

Maybe I’m naïve, but I just don’t get the big deal with open source software. I think it’s great that people are willing to put their time and effort into writing it, documenting it, and supporting it, but there are people out there that believe that all software should be open source, and that commercial closed source software is generally a Bad Thing. While I can certainly see the advantages of open source software, I make my living writing closed source software. It’s fairly simple: if Sybase didn’t make revenue selling SQL Anywhere, I’d be out of a job.

Thinking about it a little more, I’m quite sure that I am naïve when it comes to open source, because I don’t think I understand how it works. The extent of my knowledge about the process is this: there is a code repository somewhere on the web, and anyone can sync up to it and make changes to the code. But are there regular code reviews? Are there people checking every code submission to see if someone is adding bad code or trojans or anything like that? Who checks all the different platforms? Who runs regression tests to make sure that new features aren’t breaking old features, or that performance isn’t being affected? Who decides which
new features go in and which ones don’t? Surely there must be a full-time team of developers and managers that oversee all of these things, but how do they get paid? Who can afford to take on a full-time job that pays nothing? Is the open source world entirely populated by rich developers who don’t need an income? I doubt it. Is it enough to have advertising on the web site and a “Please donate” button with a link to PayPal?

I just checked the OpenSSL web site, and it says specifically that the project is volunteer-driven. The Apache Software Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization, and their annual reports (complete with financial information) are listed on their website. However, according to the 2006 report, every officer of the company received $0 compensation, and the total revenue of the entire organization was under $150,000. Total compensation, wages, and benefits were $0. Again, are they all rich and don’t need incomes? How do you squeeze in being a director or VP of such an organization if you already have a full-time job elsewhere?

I’ve been a professional software developer for over 15 years, so I probably should know the answers to these questions, and I’m feeling rather stupid that I don’t. If you do, please leave a comment and let me know how this works. Maybe I should stick to blogging about my kids or sports.


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