Monday, September 22, 2008

Perceived Benefits of "Free" Open Source Software

Hi all...

Perceived benefits of Open Source involvement. I'm betting that nearly everyone in the Open Source community has wrestled with it at some point, either with customers, management, or both. And I have to admit, it was a bit of a shock to the system (in a good way) when I was introduced to the Eclipse community a few years ago. I didn't really have a good understanding of Open Source back then. And I may still not have a good handle on open source, but I'd like to think I know a little more than when I started.
German WeiƟbier
Open Source means different things to different people. Some people just see the word "free" and get all giddy. Others see it as an opportunity to spread the wealth a bit and help out the community. Frameworks are popular in this respect - just look at Eclipse, Apache, and SourceForge. Each has its own piece to the puzzle and companies and developers can take those bits and assemble them in cool and unique ways if they meet their needs.

But ultimately the "free" of Open Source is that it's "free" to use, modify, and redistribute within the scope of the license agreement under which it's distributed. Note that I didn't say it's "free" in what it costs to create or maintain.

Often you'll hear the phrase "free as in beer" not "free as in speech". Or gratis vs. libre. It takes time, money, and all the various ingredients for whatever it is you're putting together - whether that be virtual, like software, or physical, like beer.

Let me expand on that a bit. I like beer, so it's an easy analogy to expand on. :)

When the "beer" flows freely, it acts as more than just a social lubricant (those EclipseCon evening social events we do so enjoy). I think it actually greases the wheels of progress so individuals can get beyond the gears and widgets they may be stuck on and move on to higher levels of complexity. (For example, focusing on the design of the "car" and not the "nuts and bolts" required to put it all together.)

But in order for the "beer" to flow, somebody has to make it. Somebody must grow the hops and barley, secure water rights, acquire a facility to ferment and bottle the results, and so on. It takes effort to combine these ingredients, as well as time and money, into a nectar that can be shared to do all these wonderful things in an open community of ideas.

Each Eclipse project has its own brand of beer. And not everyone will be able to use every kind of beer that's available. Think of it as a brewery introducing a new wheat beer. I'm not a big wheat beer fan, but I can appreciate the care that goes into making it, and many of the processes involved are the same used for other beers, so there's a shared or at least similar set of ingredients that we can help with or at least support in this community of peers.

To continue the "beer" analogy, the Eclipse Foundation is as much a bottling facility and brew pub as it is an actual brewery. Its role is to help distribute the beer around the world, but also to gather communities and raise awareness so the beer doesn't stop flowing due to a lack of participation from those communities. Free beer does nothing for anyone if nobody knows about it and nobody drinks it.

So I see my role as the titular head of DTP (if only because we need a head to chop off should things get out of hand) to do three things at a high level...

  1. Represent Sybase's interests at Eclipse so we can continue making and drinking beer, whether it's a Sybase brand of beer or someone else's.
  2. Invite others to drink our beer so we start seeing more people drinking their way to newer and more exciting things that would then allow us to do bigger and better things as well.
  3. And make sure the beer continues to flow. Ingredients must keep coming to the brewery. New types of beer improve the richness of the overall production of the brewery, and sometimes we need to coordinate to help market and sell the beer to other distributors and markets to make sure the free exchange continues to perpetuate itself.
The grand goal is to continue to make the beer that we need to survive, but also allow open source, DTP, and Eclipse to expand and grow in surprising ways.

I'm constantly amazed at the breadth of products and projects that are beginning to adopt and use DTP for their own purposes. Every year, we add more great people and companies to the mix. So we need to continue to nurture and grow DTP to continue building awareness and adoption of our beer so that the immediate community as well as our customers are aware of our efforts.

So drink up... I'd like to see us making and drinking DTP beer for a long time to come. :)


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Anonymous said...

May want to check your beer quote, I believe you have it reversed

"Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer."

Brian Fitzpatrick (aka "Fitz) said...

So I may have paraphrased a little. :)

Thanks for correcting the quote however. I appreciate it!

Virgil said...

Nice post. I love the beer/OSS analogy. It's a good thing that too much open source software doesn't leave me feeling as bad as too much beer does. :)

Ed Merks said...

Nice post. I prefer free wine myself. Sounds like whining I know, but the fermentation process is not so different.

Brian Fitzpatrick (aka "Fitz) said...

@virgil... I have to agree. Though discussing OSS sometimes gives me just as much of a hangover as too much beer, I'd prefer the OSS variety. Easier recovery. :)

@Ed... Wine is good too! Longer process than beer, but similar results!