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GNU is Not Unix

Why Do People Write Open Source Software? 283

M.Broil writes "Two interesting articles try to answer this question. One's at NewsForge, the other's at The two writers reach conclusions that are almost exactly opposite. Which one is right? Or is it possible that different open source coders have different motivations? (That's what I think, anyway.)" I suspect as well that each developer has their own reason, ranging from ego to malcontent to benevolence.
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Why Do People Write Open Source Software?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:20AM (#5814533)
    Why do they only half write it?
    • by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus punct> on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:31AM (#5814572) Homepage
      As the author of a cryptographic toolkit [libtomcrypt] and a bignum toolkit [libtommath], both of which are written in portable ISO C, build out of the box on any GCC equipped machine and generally perform reasonably decent I have two cents to offer.

      As an OSS developer myself I have to say that it is not that I'm not willing to go all the way with a complete product it is often that the end users themselves are not willing to put in the effort to review it.

      For instance, combined 500 people have downloaded the recent releases of my libraries. Which doesn't seem like a lot except that crypto libraries are generally not horded that much.

      Often I will go months before receiving anything from anyone. Whenever a bug is found I often fix it within a few hours at most. Mostly I find the bugs in the libraries as I wander through it.

      Though my projects are "limited" scale I bet similar reasoning applies to larger scale projects. If a developer doesn't get user feedback its not only hard to fix bugs they don't know about but often discouraging to continue development.


      BTW my libs are at for the curious....
      • by Nick of NSTime ( 597712 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:07AM (#5814676)
        Conversely, if you charged for it, people would bitch about it all the time.
      • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @12:26PM (#5815000) Homepage
        As an OSS developer myself I have to say that it is not that I'm not willing to go all the way with a complete product it is often that the end users themselves are not willing to put in the effort to review it.

        End users don't want to review products. They just want to learn the minimum necessary to use them, to get done what they need to.

        Companies have teams of people that they pay to review and test products. This is the only way for them to get large amounts of feedback during development; if they just threw their unfinished product at end users and said "Here, find out what's wrong, and by the way, we won't pay you," the end users would go "Pshh, find out yourself. Then deliver it to us."
        • There are good users, and then there are whiney lusers.
          When people say "Linux has to do X for it to be ready for the desktop", 9 times out of 10 they are talking about for the lusers, which contribute nothing at all back.

          Thankfully, generally what is good for the lusers are also good for the users and so generally these things get done.

          On the one hand I do like having the lusers because they have the side effect of dragging in hardware companies, games, users, and corperate funding. On the other hand the
        • by kbielefe ( 606566 ) <> on Saturday April 26, 2003 @12:47PM (#5815076)
          I'm okay with end users who just want to "learn the minimum necessary" and expect others to find the bugs. What I'm not okay with is end users who whine about software bugs on slashdot endlessly but won't take 5 minutes to submit a bug report to the developer. Most developers I have submitted bug reports to are like this one; they are well versed in their software and can fix a bug in about 5 minutes if you give them a chance.

          Bottom line is: Don't complain about bugs in free-as-in-beer software if you haven't made a minimum effort to fix it.

        • "End users don't want to review products. They just want to learn the minimum necessary to use them, to get done what they need to."

          If they are not willing to put in even the minimal amount of effort then they should pay for software.
      • Same for me. I'm developing JFtp, a graphical java ftp/sftp/smb client which can be launched via java web start / downloaded / used in 3rdparty-products.

        I have about 500 downloads during 2 weeks if i announce a release, webstart users not counted (which should be the majority of users), but there are only few incoming emails and they are often in phases of the project when no work is done for at least a week.

        Most mails are about others who want to embed the ftp api, almost no bug reports even when there h
      • If Methods for reporting bugs were more easily accessible from runtime objects, rather than source packages, I'd do it a lot more.

        Even with Gentoo and all the source packages sitting on my computer I rarely feel the need to unpack one just to find out the maintainer's email, though if there were an easy way (help:about is fine, except many people don't take advantage of it for this purpose) and maybe some sort of meta-information for a library. If every library exported a const char* "maintainer" string, t
  • When? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Blaine Hilton ( 626259 ) * on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:20AM (#5814537) Homepage
    Wonder when the local collage will be offering "Open-Source Psychology 101"...

    Go calculate [] something

    • Wonder when the local collage will be offering "Open-Source Psychology 101"...

      Here I'll save you the trip:

      I'm gonna live forever.
      I'm gonna learn how to fly,
      I feel it coming together,
      People will see me and cry
      I'm going to make it to heaven,
      Light up the sky like a flame,
      I'm gonna live forever,
      Baby remember my name,
      Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember.

      I'm gonna live forever,
      Baby remember my name,
      Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember.
  • :O (Score:2, Insightful)

    by burrfux ( 654443 )
    People write oss because of the fun and the experiences they get!
  • Simple... (Score:3, Funny)

    by SpaceLifeForm ( 228190 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:22AM (#5814541)
    Just to piss off Microsoft.
  • by gobbligook ( 465653 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:22AM (#5814542)
    some write for recognition, some write for pleasure, some write just cause they are anti-corporation/microsoft.

    I personally write cause it passes the time, and because some projects I can submit and get marks in my classes at university for the projects I do.

    I guess to answer you have to examine (or almost have to) a persons beliefs and lifestyle. I believe open source is the way to go for most things, some I don't however.

    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:53AM (#5814881)
      Another common one is that they have a tool that gets the job done a hoarding it does them no good, so they release it for the common good. Of course most of them do it because they found value in another open source application they used and figure "hey I got something for nothing why not release this if there is a chance it will help someone." A good example of this from my personal experience is CEPS or Cisco Enterprise Print System, while there is arguably not a lot of new code there (it is based around a number of open source tools), the completed package is definitly worth more than the sum of its parts. The author was very happy at finding open and free solutions he could use to get his job done, and in return released the best print system in existance back to the world for all to use. The author gained something from the open source movement (all the free tools that allowed him to make a super low cost print system that beats every commercial system out there) and the community gained something (this great tool). Everyone wins and it costs him almost no additional time or expense to release his work as open source. To check out the project go to the CEPS page [] at
      • In order to get a better appreciation of just how much good the general open source attitude is doing, you need only look at something as a contrast. I'll take as an example a field that is quite old and set in its ways: architecture. Have you ever tried to find good learning material about architecture online? If you have, you've probably seen how hard it is. There is an abundance of sites that want to sell you something, but they don't do anything for the good of the community (with some good exceptions).
  • by bluesangria ( 140909 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:23AM (#5814544)
    This one of those "well DUH!" kinda articles.

    Does it really take people that long to understand that someone may want to create something just for the sheer joy of creating something useful or helpful? How the hell do you explain drawing, music, painting, etc.? Jesus, corporate-boneheads must think everybody is a greedy, sonuvabitch driven only by monetary compensation.

    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:09AM (#5814682) Homepage Journal
      Even the "selfish" reasons that can motivate OSS developers don't involve a monetary transaction. The resume-building aspect can, in economic terms, be considered an investment in human capital, an investment made with time and effort, not dollars. For many would-be IS professionals, they may not have the financial resources to take a certified class in $hotnewtech, but jumping in on an OSS project can provide similar benefits. It's a nice alternative means of building a skilled workforce.
    • Programmers... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rmdyer ( 267137 )
      hiding under the pillow of the "Open Source" mantra.

      This article should really be titled...

      "Why do people write Unix software?"

      Right? I mean, that's really what we mean here right? All those things about being creative and experimenting and having fun coding...well, I mean that can all be done with closed source programming too...right? The only difference is that when you are ready, you throw your code to the hounds for inspection, and acceptance.

      Anybody can "code". Whether it is closed source, ope
      • Well, what happens when someone who has invested their life in Microsoft products and tools sees that others are encroaching on their turf? Don't they fight? Don't you fight to defend and protect your life and investment? Don't you write more code that people might use freely so that you won't lose everything you have in your head?

        If somebody running a Microsoft OS decides to "fight back" by writing open source code, they just become one of us, not one of them. Look at the 3D engine community for an exce
  • OS - why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ( 463614 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:24AM (#5814548) Homepage
    Because opennes implies freedom. Humans like freedom.

    Second, because we have bad experiences with Microsoft. Microsoft is closed. Proprietary. Restrictive. Opressive. User hostil. Unreliable.

    • Re:OS - why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kenshin ( 43036 )
      Because opennes implies freedom. Humans like freedom.

      Second, because we have bad experiences with Microsoft. Microsoft is closed. Proprietary. Restrictive. Opressive. User hostil. Unreliable.

      If humans like freedom, then why is Microsoft so popular? I think humans, in general, prefer convenience over freedom.

      • Re:OS - why? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by brendan_orr ( 648182 )
        Most people are forced to use Microsoft's OS. Say, if a new computer user goes to Dell (or HP/Compaq for that matter) the OEM will prefer to use Windows over Linux because of a nice deal between Microsoft and that OEM. The only way you can really get another OS from this, is if you explicitly state that you want Linux. As for putting other OS's (I.e. getting a blank hard disk to install some other OS) you are SOL. I don' t want to turn this to a Linux/Microsoft debate, but Linux is generally better for
      • Re:OS - why? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Evan ( 2555 )
        You may be correct that many people prefer convenience over freedom, but I don't think that the popularity of Microsoft is evidence for that.

        I suspect that from the point of view of most non-programmer users of software, convenience *is* freedom -- they are free to get their job/hobby/whatever done without a lot of hassle. They are simply unaware of the additional freedom that they might experience by using Free software, and are put off by the (real or imagined) inconveniences of switching.

        It is only wh
  • Mt. Everest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by finkeldude ( 656569 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:25AM (#5814555)
    Because it's not there.
  • by dollargonzo ( 519030 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:25AM (#5814557) Homepage
    it seems to me that people get into OSS for the same reason they might get into local government (i.e. small town politics). if someone is interested in government and politics, they try to do something locally first, because a) people will let them and b) there is less bureaucracy. there is usually little or no pay when involved in local government, but just like working on OSS, it gives a good resume boost and gives valuable experience. i guess the only difference is that local government is not aiming to be a competitor to higher authorities :)
    • Dunno about your town, but here local government is really more of a joke. We had a dispute in town about a council member having a tree cut down by the DPW when it did not fall under the guidelines for what trees the DPW will remove for no charge. This dispute has gone on for years.

      Oh wait, you're right. Local government is like OSS!
  • Two reasons... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HaloZero ( 610207 ) <> on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:29AM (#5814565) Homepage make the world a better place, and just because you can.
  • money/fame (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LinuxXPHybrid ( 648686 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:29AM (#5814566) Journal
    Yeah... they appear to come to opposite conclusions, but if you read both, they suggest what sounds very familiar; money/fame (NewsForge one suggests money (kind of) and Cybernaut suggests fame (kind of). When we look at companies like Microsoft, Macromedia, and Adobe, open source appears to be some bizarre stuff that geeks do, but at the end of the day, it's backed up by reasons that create much of today's society; money/fame.
  • by MattW ( 97290 )
    The real question is why do people release their code open source. I agree that most of the projects really do start as scratching one's own itch. When you've got someone worthy of release, then you think: wow, I've gotten so much elite software, it would be awesome to give something out myself. That's what motivated me to do it -- and I'd already written everything for a specific purpose, and really had nothing to gain.
  • Why I wrote it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by questamor ( 653018 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:32AM (#5814576)
    I wrote mine and released it OSS for one reason - laziness.

    One was a simple addressbook, 2 were games, and one a graphics prog - the latter for Commodore 64s.

    I released them all as free software, source included, and didn't know what the GPL was at the time. All the same it was open source, simply because I couldn't be bothered with the marketing/distribution/etc. I may have sold them as shareware or donationware had I a strong enough urge to, but for me the majority of the fun was in writing the programs themselves. Getting money for them seemed more work than I could be bothered putting into it
  • by Gefiltefish ( 125066 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:34AM (#5814579)

    I'm sure nobody can say why exactly people write open source software because different people are quite likely to have different motives. That said, I think we can look to Slashdot posters for equivalence on at least a few levels.

    I say this because I've often wondered to myself, "Self, why do you spend at least a few minutes each week drafting comments to slashdot postings?" And the answer, just for me, varies depending on the day, the post, and my mood.

    Some days I post to avoid work and flex, perhaps, a different part of my brain. The same might be said for some authors or contributors to open source software.

    Other days, I post because an article catches my interest and I have something compelling to say. Again, the same might be said about open source programmers. They contribute to projects about which they are passionate.

    Other days, I post to get a rise out of others or to simply be an attention-seeking karma whore. Surely, some open source programmers contribute for recognition, status, or props from their peers.

    My bet is that most people write open source software for many reasons and that, even for an individual, those reasons change from one day to the next.

    • My bet is that most people write open source software for many reasons and that, even for an individual, those reasons change from one day to the next.

      You raise a good point. Everyone wants to pigeon-hole OSS programmers into groups, explaining in order of importance WHY they do what they do. So many still think its purely benevolence, and put the programmers on pedestals, when its often not warranted. Some start something and are too lazy to finish it alone. Some write a program that fits their needs
  • by Musashi Miyamoto ( 662091 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:35AM (#5814583)
    I think there are a few reasons.

    First, most OSS developers do not think they can make money selling their software. They think that software that sells needs to be super stable and perfect, with a perfect UI and a large advertising budget... Though, shareware shows that this does not have to be the case.

    They do not realize that they are taking food out of their future mouths.

    Think about this.

    When someone makes a scientific discovery, usually, thier discovery becomes part of the public domain and everyone can use it without paying royalties. On the other hand, when someone writes closed source software, they must be paid whenever anyone wants to use that software.

    Open source software (via the GPL in particular) causes software development to resemble scientific research, as you give your "inventions" to the public domain, allowing others to improve and advance the "science". The progess is then cumulative (or can be), as other programmers add to existing sofware and improve on it.
    • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:09AM (#5814683) Journal
      They do not realize that they are taking food out of their future mouths.

      What a load of crap.

      Among my projects is a class I released to's "shared code library". It is a method for web servers to send emails through a remote MTA. (PHP's "mail()" function only works on *nix if you have sendmail installed)

      By releasing this library into the public (under the LGPL) I've seen it grow and get better as others have used it, and occasionally, tweaked it to fit their needs.

      Why people release software to the public is different for each person. It's really like asking: "Why do people drive on freeways?" or, "Why do people dig with shovels?".

      Open source licensing is a tool. Different folks use that tool for different reasons. The point, however, is that we *have* this tool, and isn't it kinda neat?
    • I call bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) <doug&opengeek,org> on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:51AM (#5814877) Homepage Journal
      I agree with the scientific discovery part, but your statement about food breaks down.

      The difference here is simple. The scientist that makes a discovery is paid somehow to do that. They are just going to make another one later. If they make enough, they continue to be valuable.

      Their living is new ideas.

      OSS people work differently.

      They have problems to solve. They make their money solving problems. These solutions typically require tools to build.

      By building better tools they are more able to solve problems. Since they can solve more problems, they will make more money.

      When you buy a license to run someones software, you are basically paying them to solve your problem. When you hire OSS capable people, you are paying them to solve your problem.

      The difference between the two is profound.

      When you purchase software, you do not own the solution. You only pay for the right to make use of their solution that you can use according to their terms. It is not your solution.

      Spending your money on someone who can build with OSS means that you own that solution. How it is used and what it does is on your terms.

      Given the licensing terms today and the potential per user costs they incurr, OSS provides a much better long term value proposition than closed software does.

      Anyone who really understands what that means will become a lot more willing to pay for OSS solutions.

      Here is another way to look at things. All the money for all the solutions can either go to Redmond, or it can go to the people you have to hire anyway to make that mess work in the first place.

      Which will be cheaper in the long run?

      Personally, I would much rather support and educate the folks around me and actually get something rather than pay them what I have to and also pay that big and very hungry gorilla in Redmond.

      Stealing food indeed.

    • They do not realize that they are taking food out of their future mouths.
      I have been programming professionally for 10 years and have never sold a single copy of the software I have worked on. How do I survive, you might ask.

      My company pays for the service of writing custom embedded software for the product they sell. My previous company paid me for the service of writing custom software for their internal use and for their web site. A vast majority of programmers work this way.

      Other than that, I think you make a good analogy. What you fail to mention is that scientists get the benefit of the scientific research of others. My main motivation when I contribute to open source projects is that I want the free software that others contribute. I realize that if everyone just leached off of the system then Linux wouldn't exist at all so I try to do my part.

    • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @01:43PM (#5815339) Homepage
      When someone makes a scientific discovery, usually, thier discovery becomes part of the public domain and everyone can use it without paying royalties.

      I take it you don't have much of a connection to the scientific field in your daily life.

      Sure, there is a vast international academic community that shares their discoveries and operates on a beautiful principle of cooperation (but only within the acadmic community). But for a biotech/pharma company, scientific research is an unnavigable tangle of patents and licences. You think that tech patents have gotten out of hand? For years it's been much worse for biotech - anything and everything is patentable and patented - sequences of only a few amino acids, genomes of whole organisms, very basic research methods, etc. For a long time companies have been submitting patent applications containing hundreds of pages of any sequence they could come up with, in the hopes that some of it might be useful later. In many areas you have to pay off millions of dollars in licenses to large pharma companies just for the privilege of doing research on that particular subject.

      No, it's a very long time before a very large portion of scientific discoveries make it to the public domain. And don't forget, it's the industry not academia which does most of the science that directly affects our daily lives.

      First, most OSS developers do not think they can make money selling their software. They think that software that sells needs to be super stable and perfect, with a perfect UI.

      Oh, btw, I just assumed you were joking here - they are free software developers, not blind morons with no understanding of what software is. Incidentally, please do show me just one example of an application that's "super stable, with a perfect UI", commercial or otherwise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:39AM (#5814592)
    Its a conspirary to bring down microsoft. All these "open source" developers are employees of SUN Microsystems, IBM and HP in an attempt to bankrupt Microsoft. GNU is just another department of SUN. SCO was in it too.

    There are no more that 500 "open source" programmers...

    Linus Torvalds was an agent initially working for KGB and then CIA when the wall went down in Finland. Alan Cox is part of MIT and the Israeli intelligence service.
  • peer pressure (Score:2, Interesting)

    by audiophilia ( 516688 )
    everybody's doing it.
  • by cribb ( 632424 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:39AM (#5814594)
    i think i am not the only person who does this:
    my boss tells me: We need a program that does foo
    So i write the program that does foo, and if i decide that it could potentially be useful to someone else except me, i release it as open-source. I get enough money from my job, and have to write the program anyway. It's not like i'm obsessed with the thought of one day writing the killer program that everyone simply has to have and that i'm gonna become a millionaire from selling it.

    Why open-source? Because my software will be customized for our machines, our OS and it may not work anywhere else. So instead of someone else reinventing the wheel, he could just as well check freshmeat, get my program and it would hopefully work with some minor modifications.

    • Your company owns everything you do on company time. Even if it was a personal project on company time, they own it. So the information you are distributing is illegal, pirated, in violation of a trade-secret, etc. In your case, it wasn't even a personal project.

      I'm not even talking about any job contract you might have signed when offered the job... I think it's standard law that one's employer owns whatever you do/make/invent/create during the hours you being paid to do stuff for him/her.
      • Umm if you simply ASK most employers will not have a problem with releasing the work, they got the tool they asked for, so what if someone else can use the same tool. Unless you are in the business of selling software it often makes sense to release your tools, they may be maintained for free =0 Yes there are PHB's or companies with specific reasons for not allowing tools to be released OS, but I would bet they are in the minority if you simply took that first step =)
  • What about laziness? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by richieb ( 3277 ) <richieb&gmail,com> on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:41AM (#5814597) Homepage Journal
    I think most programmers get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, especially as you move from job to job. I had convinced several companies I worked for to release some of the software as open source, mostly so I can use it in the next job.

    For example, this project [] was part of code we build at a startup (now defunct). Since then I used it in two other jobs. The team that build this software to start with, is still using it at several different companies.

    So, rather than building the same thing again and again, I got to build it once and then since it's open source, I get to use it as long as I need.

  • fame, [] notoriety, [] power [] and cold hard cash. [] ...not to mention the many lucrative job oppurtunities! []
  • I agree that there are many motives for people doing anything. But a big motive is play. Because necessity isn't the mother of invention, play is. Not just throwing the baseball, or playing BF1942, but serious play as well. People like to play with things that they are interested in. It keeps them interested. They also want to show their best. Open Source is an arena to show what they can do.

    Someone said here one day that nobody writes a sales database 8hrs a day because they enjoy it. But someone
  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ ( 559379 ) * on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:47AM (#5814612) Journal
    In my own case I do it for two reasons...
    1. To show my customer that I can bring them a wealth of functionality with no additional cost (which goes a LONG way towards explaining why we keep getting awarded our military contract year after year even though our expense is a little higher than our competition)
    2. To level the playing field and to empower the little guy. Here's a great example, travel agents are being put out of business slowly but surely by airlines and GDSs (SABRE, WorldSpan, etc) by the way of no commissions, etc.

    Orbitz, a collusion between carriers to control the distribution channel for tickets, does things like sends ticket holders a notification if their flight is late and so on. Travel Agents have not had that ability until now. They CAN use such CRS solutions like Virtually There and so on but SABRE strips the customer data and will market to their customers behind their backs bypassing the payment of any commisions. This lack of commission is pretty huge. Imagine if your travel agency was turning 10 million dollars worth of revenue for the airlines to get nothing in return?

    I created a Perl app called TripTiger [] that parses CRS terminal data and stores it on the travel agent's web server and stores it in a MySQL database.

    The CRS cannot harvest their customers emails, I can have a Perl script running via a cron job to check flight information and send notifications but MOST importantly travel agencies can now control their customer data.

    TripTiger is FREE to all trave agencies and they don't have to host with my service at all. It's more important to keep them in business by demonstrating their value to the customer and this helps.

    Open Source hasn't crashed the travel technology party and I am trying to help make that happen. Otherwise travel agencies aren't going to be in business much longer.

    By the way, I have placed TripTiger on Sourceforge [] but am having some difficulty with file uploads if anyone can offer advice. I have the spirit just not a master at the mechanics yet.
  • Simple answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jacek Poplawski ( 223457 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @10:48AM (#5814614)
    We write Open Source software because THIS IS FUN.
  • because it's fun (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brosmike ( 662936 )
    Personally, I think that programming is fun. Sure, it's not as good as gaming, but sometimes I really don't feel like racking my mind with anything but code. Making it open source lets people comment on my poor programming habits, which in turn makes me a better programmer. I think. :) Plus, it's amusing to see the reactions when I give my classmates [I'm twelve ;) ] a link to the source code.
  • Off-the-shelf games have a terribly short life span. Other software does as well, but I reached this line of thought through the avenue of games. The general industry now uses a model of approximately "realease slightly premature, patch twice, move on to another product".

    As such, if there's a particular type of game that you like to play a lot, over a period of many years, you have what I see are two choices: play a series of disconnected commercial games that come somewhat close to giving you the feeli
  • by iFlynn ( 668727 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:01AM (#5814651)
    This is such a simple subject it's very easy to over complicate it. While there are a variety of reasons to write any software, the overwhelming motivation for most open source software is obvious.

    Someone wants an app that does X in a certain way Y. They could only find an app that does X-3 and it does it in a round about way Z. So they write an app that does X in the certain way Y and release it with the source so that others can modify it to suit their needs as well. Perhaps their mods will be benefitial to the original author as well.

    Linux, Perl, blah blah blah, all started this way. It's not complicated or difficult to understand.

    What's difficult to understand is why so many people release shareware that does one simple thing and expect people to pay them 20 bucks for it.
  • by Sepper ( 524857 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:02AM (#5814656) Journal
    Didn't the study from the Boston Research group address that question? (study done "In Cooperation with OSDN") e_subpage72.asp

    1. Intellectually stimulating 43.2
    2. Improves skill 43.2
    3. Code should be open 34.2
    4. Non-work functionality 30.2
    5. Work functionality 30.0
    6. Obligation from use 28.3
    7. Work with team 20.1
    8. Professional status 17.4
    9. Other 16.3
    10. Open Source reputation 11.5
    11. Beat proprietary software 11.3
    12. License forces me to 0.4

    Note: Question asked for top three motivators of F/OSS participation

    • by Jordy ( 440 )
      Huh, what about, "needed a feature that wasn't there."

      That is the main reason why I contribute to Open Source projects. I need something, it isn't there, I open the source and add it.

      Maybe this is a list of why one would start an Open Source project?
  • by Kircle ( 564389 )
    Some people say that writing open source software doesn't put food on the table. I say boo hoo! You can just eat the disks and CD-ROMs. :)

    Seriously though, this analogy brings up an interesting point. You usually hear this saying in reference to some form of art: painting, writing, acting, etc. So when you view the act of writing open source software as a form a art that people enjoy (not as just "work"), then it starts to make perfect sense.
  • by AaronLuz ( 559686 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:23AM (#5814733)

    Reduce the cost of your tools and increase the productivity of your labor.

    I've worked as a contractor on a number of database and batch environments in and around a small city. The amount of duplicated effort is astounding. Everyone has their own half-baked, written-from-scratch solution that is expensive to maintain and lacking in some respects. As a contractor, I have the advantage since I can apply some of what I learn at company X to company Y.

    However, for legal reasons I need to very careful not to re-use code from one place to another. I'm also very careful not to reveal trade secrets that might seem obvious to everyone but a lawyer. Really, I think most companies see sharing of code as a legal thicket instead of a common-sense approach to saving effort.

    (Now, I'm not saying a company should give away all its code, just the dull-but-imporant stuff unrelated to the core business.)

    I think most of the primary contributors to significant open source projects do so with the backing of a company with an enlightened view of self-interest. I really hope this view catches on, since it would make the workdays of slobs like me that much more rewarding.

  • by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:24AM (#5814740)
    I suspect much of it is written on company time, on the sneak, the QT... at least partly.

    Assuming, of course, they're employed.

    The one thing that has bothered me about OSS (I like the concept, don't get me wrong) is that writing software for free might be a coder pride thing, but folks, vanity don't pay the rent or the groceries.

    Unless you're independently wealthy, you have to be doing something to pay for the pork and beans.

    • I think you give an excellent example of just not "getting it".

      To paraphrase Linus' response when asked why he would invest so much time into something he makes no money off of - "I am a developer, I won't starve".

      The sad truth of it is, we are geeks - we write code for a living, and we write code on our own time - we spend more time writing code than any company can be reasonably expected to pay us for. Other people don't expect to be paid for everything they do while they are awake, it just so happens th

    • writing software for free might be a coder pride thing, but folks, vanity don't pay the rent or the groceries. Unless you're independently wealthy, you have to be doing something to pay for the pork and beans.

      Hobby []: "An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure."

      Nothing there about needing to be independently wealthy to have one ;)
  • by jasonditz ( 597385 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:25AM (#5814750) Homepage
    Or is it possible that different open source coders have different motivations?

    No... its been my experience that every human being thinks and acts exactly the same.

  • There is no mystery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dsfox ( 2694 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @11:26AM (#5814757) Homepage
    Why do people wash their own cars? Cook their own food? Play their own music? Why do people pick up litter on the beach? There are plenty of reasons to do things besides wrapping them up in plastic and putting them on a store shelf. Saving money. Making money indirectly or otherwise fulfilling job or academic requirements. Enjoyment.

    Why does this question even get asked? Why are people always questioning the motivation of this particular hobby or activity? It seems like someone out there would prefer that people *didn't* write open source software...
  • I'm currently developing mod_highlight for Apache. It will have functionality similar to the highlighting in Google's cache. The reason I'm developing it as free software is out of good will. I sincerely hope that others can benefit from my work, and I look forward to receiving their feedback so that I can make my product better.
  • Whenever I release source code, it's for the reasons listed in both articles.

    The NewsForge article concludes that we go open source because "there's something in it for me." And yes, that's true. My #1 marketing plan has always been, "Get it distributed; get it used; get it accepted." Open source is a great way to "get it distributed," especially for customers with thin wallets.

    On the other hand, Maslow's hierarchy of needs in the Cybernaut article also applies. At this point in my career life-cycle (I

  • by jeanjean83 ( 624273 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @12:03PM (#5814924)
    I just love the coding, I don't do it for anything else, except pure love. If someone else wants to make money from what i write, let them. I just want to code. If someone else wants to modify my writings, let them. As long as I'm able to code, no-one can take away the fun from me. If someone wants to write closed source software, let them. It's just fun to write, if I can in any way help some-one else, while I'm having fun, why not. It's just plain and simple fun, let's keep it that way.
  • They both assume that open source programmers write code for the benefit of others. While this may be the case for many pieces of software, most software is written for the author. If an author needs a feature he writes it.

    If he's reasonably nice, but too lazy to arrange payment, he'll often share these changes. I'd wager almost all the device drivers for Linux were written by someone who owned a device that wasn't already supported in the OS.
  • ...probably for various people, well, it varies...

    Originally for myself from probably 14-18 is was to learn.
    Then from 18-24 it was because I thought I was doing something important.
    From 24-29 it was done only at times of boredom.
    30 on has been for one reason: to fuck Microsoft
  • Perhaps.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DuSTman31 ( 578936 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @12:37PM (#5815044)

    ...because they love what computers could be.

    I've always thought that the great thing about computers is their mallability - the way you can change the way they act.

    Then comes issues like licensing, and the way that proprietary software can only be extended using special macro languages.. These things drop artificial flexibility barriers onto a completely open system - a very sad waste of the potential of such devices..

    Because malleability is the best trait of computer programs over specific, fixed systems, it is only at its best if no such artificial barriers are imposed on the system.

    The open source model really just seems like a natural method of software development that avoids such wastage...

  • many just want everything to be black and/or white. As it is much easier to control that way.
  • I've thought about this before, and I really think that I write OSS as a hobby. I don't expect to get paid for it, it's just for the good of the open source community. That may sound a little goody-goody, but as long as I have a ton of free time, I'm glad to do it. I think the best way of doing OSS is to release everything free and open, and give the users the option to donate some money to the project if they feel it deserves payment. I know if I really like a certain software application, I'll be glad
  • The emergence of Open Source Software phenomena is an interesting and hopeful commentary on humanity.

    I think it can best be explained by Malsow [] pyramid or hierarchy of needs. Those toward the top of pyramid have an increasing desire to create. Also OSS provides a way to create without an artifical "leadership" or power structures that dominate almost all our other areas of living.

    Also, the invention of the internet provided the basic infrastructure for like minded people to get together and create some
  • We had a pretty good discussion [] of this very topic a year and a half ago. Looking over the postings, they still ring true.

  • "As a person satisfies a set of needs, starting with the survival needs, she becomes motivated by the subsequent set of needs."

    That's my reason. My woman is turned on by what she calls brainy things. So basically, it gets her to satisfy a set of my needs ;-)
  • by virtigex ( 323685 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @02:09PM (#5815445)
    I quit a really bad job so I quit without having anything to go to. Fortunatley, I had some cash to live on, so I had the time to start working on an open source project. When it came time to get a job, the open source project with accompanied documentation served as an open resume. There's a lot of BS that goes on in interviews and having your prospective employer be able to look through your code and documentation removes a large degreee of uncertainly. I was the only perfson working on this, so when asked how much I contributed I could believably say "all of it".

    There was also a bonus. When starting a job you often have to get a utility library to make life easier. With the open source project under my belt, I could just import it and start using it.

  • Disclaimer: Not a coder, just an observer...
    Doesn't the OSS community work as a culture where one's motivation comes, in part, from emulating what others have done? A culture isn't centralized, it doesn't have committees or even goals. In many ways, "it just works"...
    There are obvious leading figures and groups, of course. And, surely, some people start coding because they read The Cathedral and the Bazaar or they look up to RMS or Linus. Others are just part of it because it works...
    On the other hand
  • a standup routine. At least for men.

    Men have no idea what impresses women. They build bridges, join the army. And write open source software... to get laid.
  • Simple answer. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AyeRoxor! ( 471669 ) on Sunday April 27, 2003 @12:04AM (#5817455) Journal
    For the same reason cavemen painted on caves. Certain artists/creators have a desire to share their work with the world, to express themselves through their medeium. This idea is not peculiar; this idea is human. It's where the term humanitarian comes from.
  • by WebfishUK ( 249858 ) on Sunday April 27, 2003 @03:49AM (#5818146)

    I myself make the source code for my software [] freely available for the purpose of scientific dissemination. I work in a field (computer vision) where complex software is developed and forms the basis of experiments. Publishing papers which describe the algorithm and results is the main output but this has some limitations. Often there isnt the space to describe all the subtle aspects which make the program work. Perhaps the author does not even appreciate themselves what it is which is really driving the process (code can chge an aweful lot from conception to use). Also we want others to build on our work and that process is made much more difficult when everyone has to re-implement algorithms from scratch, possibly from incomplete or inaccurate papers.

    Sharing code to explain techniques is something that has happened in experimental science for many years. Mordern open source frameworks such as GNU have made this task much easier by providing tools and standards. The web has also massively improved distribution.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong