Daily Archives: March 12, 2005

Open Source Activity – Business Model or Charity? 4

One of the great strengths of Open Source software is that thousands contribute to it. Many of those do so for free and therefore receive no wages for the time spent on their contribution. Others can use that contribution for free and make or save money from it.

So for example an Accountant could make use of an Open Source spreadsheet programme and pay nothing for doing so. Is this fair? The Accountant will have saved money by not using a proprietary programme, the Open Source programme maybe more productive than the commercial alternative, and the Accountant will expect to be paid for the work they have done using the programme.

In the UK and elsewhere the prevailing Economic ideology is that a workers remuneration is directly linked to the skills they have. So a general scarcity of particular skills will generally result in higher wages being paid to workers with those skills. This is clearly not what is guaranteed to happen with Open Source Activity.

There is a danger that the more time someone spends on Open Source Activity the more they will suffer financially. So for example they may not be able to afford to buy their own home or pay into a pension scheme.

Some critics of the Open Source Community claim that its ideology is “communist-like” perhaps because it does not fit in with the prevailing “free market” ideology. The converse side of such an argument is that there are and always have been gaps or faults with the “free market”. For example a drug company might not invest in research unless it can obtain a certain level of Return On Investment (ROI) that ultimately its shareholders will expect from it. Those shareholders might not be too happy if they receive no dividend payout on their shares, because they need it for example to pay for their pension or the pensions of others.

In the above example of the drug company, Open Source Activity might mean that a gap is plugged to produce much needed medicine for distribution in third world countries at a price affordable to those countries. That activity by thousands of Open Source contributors could mean that a new technology or process is discovered to make this possible. This might be impossible for the drug company because it simply cannot afford to employ that amount of people and stay in business. It may however, like the example of the Accountant above, be able to make free use and therefore profit from Open Source Activity.

Mark Elkins