Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does open source create a leech like mentality and hurt those working in the computer industry?

There is no doubt that obtaining free software is a bonus for people, but what if you’re the one putting in your energy to improve the software. As the builder of the Australian English dictionary I put in hundreds of hours only to find almost no return for my efforts. I tried all the usual ways to raise money from a distribution fee, a donation link, or thinking that perhaps people would use my professional services once they knew my work, but in the end, there is probably over a million people using my work and almost nothing to show for it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I put myself into that position. I naively believed that if you give to others then others will give to you. One person from the Ubuntu project was happy to pay $9.95 distribution fee so he could include my work into Ubuntu. He believed there were 20 million users and that I would benefit. I saw no traffic to my site or any business from Ubuntu users. The Firefox project took my work and gave nothing back. Google included my work in their Google Chrome project. A link from Google would have been worth its weight in gold, but instead any reference back to my work was buried deep inside the project. Every project took what they wanted and gave nothing back.

For me the saddest aspect is I did exactly the same. I took the work of the UK dictionary project at the advice of the OpenOffice.org project lead and used the from the OpenOffice.org project never once thinking about the people who put the work into the UK dictionary. I then gutted the dictionary from 120,000 words to 70,000 and built a better Australian dictionary for my clients (at my cost) and then made the work available to Australian users. It was later when I realised what I’d done that I wrote to the developers offering to help them if I could in some way.

Firefox was the worst for me because my work was converted to a different licence against my wishes. Google was a disappointment because I asked that they add the ability to select Australian English so I could make my work available, but in doing so they then just incorporated my work.

The problem I see with open source is it takes from one group of people to give to another. It doesn’t support those who are contributing. Until open source projects do, they will continue to churn through the people it uses which is not a good long term strategy. This approach means there will be a constant brain drain of the people contributing. People will come and go because in the end they are not rewarded. With commercial software those who contribute get paid which helps the project grow and those who are contributing to also grow.

I hope that by sharing this experience others working in the computing industry will see my contributing to open source as an example to follow thinking they’ll benefit. I haven’t. I’ve consumed a very large amount of time with no return on the time invested. I hope that by being open if one other person makes a better decision than I have, that will be a good outcome.

Kelvin Eldridge


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