Not All Open Source is Created Equal

Some code bases are more equal than others

When I started to work at Lucid Imagination, it was pretty clear to me that I was new to the open source world. So I started by talking to open source luminaries like Zack Urlocker, Mark Brewer, Matt Asay, Andrei Elkin, Larry Augustin, and others. What I learned from them is that Open Source is a broad term -- and not all open source is created equal.

It became obvious that like any social network, open source has its own code of conduct that needs to be adhered to. Whether you think of it as business environment or community process, people that are part of a particular social network do not appreciate individuals (or companies) that diverge from these agreed-upon "rules."

Probably the best way to understand how these networks differ is to use the analogy of a turkey dinner. If you go over to see your mother-in-law for dinner and she spends all day cooking, she would be deeply offended if you attempted to pay for the meal at the end of the feast. That's how it works in the open source social network -- everything is freely given with no thought of financial reward.

Now go into an expensive restaurant, order the same turkey dinner and attempt to walk out without paying -- the owner will not appreciate it (to say the least). That isn't how things work -- in fine dining or in a business social network. Such networks have had a lot of effort put into their offerings. So it's understandable that anyone else using the work should have to pony up.

To some, that doesn't seem fair. But let's look at it from another perspective. To continue the food analogy: if someone you know asks you to come over and bake that lovely cake for dessert as you do it so well -- you might do it as a favor. That's how the community operates. Anything is contributed with no strings. Now, what if someone asks you to come over and bake that same cake for 200 guests at his restaurant -- and to do it regularly, on a weekly basis? Chances are, you won't do it unless they start paying you well enough for it. That's the point where a company forms and economic considerations enter into open source development.

But which table should you dine at? Should you stick with mother-in-law open source ("free" dinner), or head for one of those corporate restaurants? 

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