Open source and a free tote bag

Matt Asay wrote a blog post “Cash, code, or free-riding in open source communities?“, which was a good post on a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about myself. He used the term “free-rider” which caused a well documented uproar.

I’m saddened by the sense of entitlement inherent in the uproar. What’s wrong with asking members of a software community to do more than just use the software? Personally, I feel that if I can endure the twice-a-year NPR pledge drive banter (which centers around making “free-riders” feel bad), I can deal with being asked to throw a little something back to the authors of the software I use. In the end, just like NPR, no one is obligated to donate, but no one should fault them for asking, because it’d suck if no one did donate.

Some of the negative responses to this article exhibit a behavior that is gets under my skin as someone who is in a similar boat as Matt. It seems fashionable these days to bash on the vendors associated with single-vendor open source projects. Do we really not want to see more vendors release their source code, or do we instead want the investment dollars to go toward the creation of more proprietary software? Don’t we think that skeptical proprietary software purveyors look at that kind of thing, and think “wow, glad that’s not me!”? I realize that most community members are aware of the nuance and hard problems, and its often the blowhards that are the most vocal, but often, the blowhards go unchallenged. Why should we let them feel cool about doing trashing those people making an honest effort? Like Savio Rodrigues, I want to see open source software production get a larger percentage of the overall investment in software than we’re seeing today.

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