[TriLUG] Open Source Propaganda

Scott Chilcote scottchilcote at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 19 14:33:24 EDT 2006

Mark Freeze wrote:
> We are trying to answer questions like the one asked by our CEO last
> week.  We had just shown him our new SugarCRM database and he said,
> "That's great!  But I can't understand why anyone would write a
> product like this and then just give it away..."
> Does anyone have any good sources for the 'theory behind' open source,
> or open source practices?
> Thanks,
> Mark.

Hi Mark,

If you look closely at the phrasing of the question your CEO asked, you 
can see that it builds an unnecessary fence around the answer.  "Why 
would you build a wonderful product and then just give it away?" serves 
to throw you into a defensive posture, with the likely outcome of 
looking foolish.  It is much more of a statement of opinion than a 
forthright question.

The majority of the Open Source projects we benefit from do not arise 
from circumstances like those he describes.  They began as 
collaborations between people who had little in common besides 1) they 
were able to write software, and 2) they needed software that was not 
already available to suit their purposes.

Another likely possibility is that they were able to use an existing 
body of Open Source code as the underpinnings for their project.

Don't get me wrong, there are cases where a company with teams of 
developers and testers have developed software and released it as Open 
Source.  This is how a lot of device drivers for free operating systems 
become available.  This is obviously profitable to those device 
companies because it opens up new markets for their hardware products.

If your business objective is primarily to make a lot of money selling 
software, then Open Source Development may not be your answer.  It may 
be, but you'll have to analyze the business model carefully to see where 
income can be secured.  Selling Support?  Consulting?  Eric Raymond's 
_The_Cathedral_&_the_Bazaar_ is a good place to look for answers.

On the other hand, if your business requires effective, reliable 
software to meet its objectives that is not available off the shelf, 
then Open Source may be your best solution.  I bet even your CEO would 
acknowledge the wide range of useful programs that Open Source has 
brought us, and how much this has benefited businesses everywhere.

Scott C.

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