What is it with the Open Source community??

With the Open Source community back in the spotlight I'm truly perplexed by what motivates them http://www.technewsworld.com/story/40315.html, and I have mixed emotions about the effect they've had on the software industry.

I respect someone who puts great effort into a software application and gives it away to the world free of charge. There are many amazing tools and programs available to us all. I've found myself relying on Open Source tools during past projects, and find them to be almost uniformly of high quality. Think of Apache for web servers, NAnt for build process management, or similar high quality applications.

However, my patience starts running thin when Open Source advocates turn from their passion for great software, and the spirit of sharing, to preaching against the evils of the profit motive. It's one thing to actively promote the benefits of free software http://gnu.netvisao.pt/philosophy/why-free.html, it's an entirely different proposition to alienate and berate those who build and/or use proprietary software.

In my opinion, Open Source developers fall into three categories:

True Believers
This group lives and breathes Open Source, fully grasps the philosophy behind it, and despises most things corporate, and all things Microsoft. True Believers don't differentiate Open Source from the general realm of the greater world of politics. In their view, Open Source is just the latest tool in the on-going struggle against the evils of capitalism, corporations, and corruption. Richard Stallman http://www.stallman.org/ personifies this group.

Profit Seekers
This group is far less vocal than True Believers but see an opportunity to make a buck creating products and services around the Open Source concept. To an extent, they speak the language of the True Believers, but observing their actions, clearly are building revenue streams to make money. Profit Seekers struggle with deep-seated conflictions due their profit seeking motive banging up against the free and sharing philosophy of Open Source licensing agreements http://www.gnu.org/licenses/licenses.html#GPL.
Mathew Szulick http://www.redhat.com/about/corporate/team/szulik.html personifies this group.

This wide-ranging group cuts across many different and unassociated sub-groups. From students checking out new technologies, to workers pushed toward Open Source because it's used at their place of work, to the technically adept who could care less about the philosophy of 1s and 0s, and simply want to use the best available solution, Dabblers are either unaware of the battle Open Source True Believers are in, or who are aware, but are practical in their ways and care far more about putting food on the table than psycho-babble about "technical purity".

Finally, let me conclude with this.. in my view there is room for both Open Source products and services, as well as people like myself trying to earn an honest buck by "selling out". The war some in the Open Source movement have ignited only serves to bring the entire industry down... with outsourcing, razor competition, and the inherent complexity of technology, that last thing we need is a flame war between developers that has no practical purpose. In a world where software doesn't pay, where's the motivation to get up in the morning and slog away for ten hours cutting code? It may seem well intended to share your hard work with the world free of charge, but as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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