I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about why companies should invest in open source. We complain about the “takers” as an Eclipse committer community; you know, the companies that take advantage of the hard work we put in never to see that hard work reciprocated. Complaining doesn’t help. We need to be able to sell them on the need to contribute. Yes, need, and I think I am starting to understand the whole thing. So here’s my “Open Source Manifesto” for what it’s worth and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. You may know all this already, or maybe I’m totally off base, but we need something like this.
Open Source Software is an Asset
I wonder if anyone has counted up the number of lines of code of software that sits out in the interweb free for use by anyone, restrictions or not. Companies go through to great lengths to protect their proprietary code as they would any other asset. Well all that open source software out there is also your asset if you chose to use it. Protect it, manage it as you would any software you have available for your product. And you can bet it’s worth much more than any software you have or could ever build in house.
Open Source Developers are Business People
Sure there are a lot of projects that are run by hobbyists or students, but the biggest projects, the most important projects out there have far more corporate employees contributing and managing them than not. And for the most part, they’re easy to deal with as good partners in business can be. Depending on how you participate, you can have much more influence on open source projects than you think, sometimes even more than you have over internal projects.
Influence by Contribution
This is the key to successfully managing the asset. If you want influence on an open source project, you need to contribute to it. And the math is simple. The more you contribute, the more influence you have. But you don’t need to go crazy and fully take over a project to be successful with it, and for the most part you don’t want to. Open source projects are quite open to contributions. Take advantage of that.
Take your place in the Community
One of my biggest thrills in open source is working with great developers from other companies. You may be tempted to fully control a project, but if you want to benefit from some of the greatest minds in our industry, you need to let others drive the boat once in a while too. Understand your place in the community and how the things you do influences it, both good and bad, and make good decisions about how you participate.
Have an Open Source Strategy
Don’t just wing it in open source. Part of being able to acquire influence on a project is building up respect and trust with the rest of the community. If you are a fly by night organization that jumps in with big plans without having a track record, it’ll be hard to achieve that. Invest in open source with a long term plan in mind. Come, stay a while, build up the trust, and you will be rewarded at the end of the day.
Don’t compete with Open Source
If you have a product that competes with an open source offering, or maybe offers something similar just a little bit better, don’t kid yourself. Sooner or later the open source offerings will become better than yours. Again, it comes down to the investment and the fact that there’s more corporate investment going into open source than you can do yourself. And if there isn’t now, there will be. The momentum is unstoppable at this point.
Understand your value proposition
At the end of the day, customers are looking for good value in their software purchase dollars. They don’t care how you built that software or even if you did. They just want you to be the best supplier of that software in the business. Sure, they’ll threaten that they can get good open source software for free, but if you focus on making their adoption of that software easier, provide things that the community doesn’t, you can add value, lots of value. Open source projects focus on source code. A good software company knows there’s more to good software than just good code. There’s lots of room to make money here, and in turn it should be easy to justify the investment you do make in open source.
Well, that’s all I can think of for now. But I’d like to continue evolving this manifesto into something all us open source contributors can bring to the companies out there and help them justify making the same investment in open source we are, to join in the fun and the profit.