Leeches or Users? Should Enterprise IT Have to Give Back to FOSS?

When an enterprise adopts open source software, that’s generally cause for celebration in the eyes of most Linux fans, signifying as it does another victory for all that is FOSS.

Not everyone sees it that way, however, as a recent debate on the Linux blogs made patently clear.

“Eclipse is open source and companies can take advantage of the open source work. There is nothing legally that can prevent them from doing so,” wrote Michael Scharf, a member of the Eclipse Foundation’s architecture council, in a post back in April. “But the eclipse community should create peer pressure to prevent the freeloaders and parasites from getting away without punishment.”

Alternatively, “leeches” was the term applied to such users in an InfoWorld article that put the spotlight on the topic just last week.

The result? You guessed it: a virtual feeding frenzy of comments, criticisms and conversation.

‘I Call Them Users’

“You might call them parasites; I call them users and adopters,” Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, told InfoWorld.

In fact, whether or not enterprise users give anything back to the community, they still create a market for Eclipse plug-ins and services, Milinkovich added.

Similarly, “small companies that use open source software” — though they may be too small to make significant contributions — “are giving back by employing those who administer this software,” noted Hatta on Slashdot, where the debate generated more than 300 comments.

‘Microsoft Requires Contributions’

“They’re also giving back by submitting bug reports and helping devs find problems in the software,” added Dan Ost. “They might also help others solve problems in mailing lists and forums.

“Most users that give back give back in the same way. Why should we hold small companies to a higher standard?” Dan Ost added.

“Microsoft requires contributions … of money,” nitehawk214 pointed out. “Small companies that can’t help develop OSS would simply be forced back to the traditional pay-for software.”

So what’s it going to be? Does FOSS’s zero cost oblige the corporate user to contribute something, monetary or otherwise, toward its development? Is FOSS being harmed by enterprise users that give nothing back? LinuxInsider’s trusty blog reporter took to the streets of the blogosphere to find out.

‘That Is Just Misinformed’

“This whole article is a troll,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “I noticed they singled out Google as a leech/former leech, and that is just misinformed. In my experience, Google has been very good at sending patches and feedback to upstream open source maintainers.”

There are companies that “haven’t gotten the point yet,” Mack added, “but developers cannot demand anything other than what their license requires.”

If users aren’t doing what the license requires, “that’s what the courts are for, but whining because companies are not doing more than the license requires is just stupid,” he concluded.

‘Use a License That Requires It’

Indeed, “so far there have been few continual offenders when it comes to ‘borrowing’ Linux,” Slashdot blogger

1 Comment

  • (I hope this doesn’t post twice. I think my first attempt disappeared.)

    I don’t understand the anger between pro-FOSS people, and pro-Commercial people.

    All software is governed by copyright law (in the US, EU, AU, etc). And copyright usage is regimented by agreements… commonly called "licenses."

    Unless you create a piece of software… from scratch… (and/or own the copyright pursuant statutory definition), you are bound by the constraints of copyright law and/or a software license.

    All contracts (by legal definition) have to have an element of "consideration." Consideration is basically defined as "I am giving you this, and you are giving me that."

    The consideration with commercial software, is typically money, along with various types of usage restrictions (lots and lots of restrictions, but that’s a different discussion for another day).

    The consideration mostly associated with FOSS is the idea that, "if you modify this software, and distribute it, you have to share your code as well."

    Commercial, FOSS, GPL, etc… are all simply types of contracts. That’s it.

    Saying that an individual or company is "bad," because they use one, or the other… is just silly and pointless.

    It is literally as ridiculous as saying someone is "good" or "bad" because they drive Ford vs Chevy… Or wear red shirts vs green shirts… Or like early 90’s rock vs late 90’s rock…

    Who cares!

    Sometimes using FOSS makes sense. Sometimes using commercial software makes sense.

    Many times using BOTH makes sense.

    Relax. Ultimately, we’re all just licensees…

    (…unless you wrote the entire thing yourself)


    Sadien Staff Editorial

    Sadien, Inc.

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