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The Almighty Buck

Tim O'Reilly on the Open Source IPOs 43

jbc writes "In the latest Ask Tim piece at the O'Reilly Web site, Tim O'Reilly gives his views on the likely impact of big money on the Open Source movement. Among other points, he says Red Hat's pre-IPO invitation is a good start, but doesn't do enough to promote future Open Source development. " At this point, I just wanna see how the market responds to RHAT.
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Tim O'Reilly on the Open Source IPOs

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  • I've read that particular Dilbert too.

    Hopefully competition amongst developers would stop this, if a developer starts introducing bugs just to get paid for fixing them someone else could fork the code or start up a new project. In this sense free software is a free market.
  • Developers would try to fix the big, prominent bugs instead of the smaller ones.

    Yes, that would be the idea. Allow users to vote for what bugs should be fixed (money isn't even needed) hence allowing important bugs to be seperated from less important bugs.

    But, small ones are often the hardest to fix.
    Isn't that the truth, lots of peope get really ticked off about the small things though.

    Nice idea, but I don't think it will work.
    If a really believed in it I would implement myself. Things are working pretty well at the moment but I notice there isn't much incentive for developers to fix problems that don't affect them.
  • Bob Metcalfe, would you please stop posting as an AC?
  • Boss: We have a new program where every employee gets $20 for every bug they fix.
    Wally: I think I'll go code myself a minivan.

    Sounds like one of the dilberts I have on my door:

    Dilbert: "The company pays me $10 for every bug I fixed in my code, ratbert. Do your little rat dance on my keyboard."
    Ratbert: (dancing) "How am I doing?"
    Dilbert: "Not so good. You just authored a web browser."

    The person who finds the bugs doesn't get any credit in the above scheme? Sucks to be a tester, eh? :-)
  • On this note, I've wondered for a while.. how do linux kernel developers and other people highly involved in the OS movement live?

    They've got to have jobs to feed them.. so they work on linux in their spare time, at home? What percentage have wives/husbands, children? How much time do they have for other people in their lives?

    My life is busy enough as it is, I can't imagine squeezing time in to develop for something I wouldn't get paid for - no matter how much I might enjoy it, I'd miss out on too many other things in life.

    Orthogonal comment, but something i've been wondering about for a while..
  • Sigh...

    Certainly most Linux stuff is Open Source, but not all Open Source is Linux. I would go so far as to guess that it's in the minority. Am I wrong in thinking that Linux is the kernel, and Open Source application software typically runs on platforms that includes Linux? For example, I write lots of open source code, but I have no interest in using Tux (disregarding his licence retrictions for the moment).

    Yes I admit bias - my notebook runs FreeBSD :)
    I don't want to start a religious discussion, but I had trouble letting your assumption go unchallenged...
  • Please note: I am not a lawyer.

    If the action is really "utterly indefensible", then yes, there are grounds for a lawsuit: the stockholders with a 51% interest can't just decide to take all the money away from the folks with 49%, or run the company into the ground because there's a majority stockholder who's nuts. But according to some scholars (see below), such suits are almost impossible to win unless conflict of interest or improper motivation can be shown.

    Anyway, choosing an open source model is defensible as a business practice, as ESR is fond of pointing out. And besides, while in theory I suppose some stockholder could try to sue Red Hat for not dumping the Open Source model, I don't think that suit would win.

    If anyone wants to plow through a lot of legal stuff on the subject, try this article [lclark.edu].

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've thought for a while that some sort of grant program administered the OSI or some other body would be a good thing. If you could provide developers a years worth of funding to implement proposals they've put together, maybe parts of the Linux kernel that are lacking would be refined or enhanced fairly quickly. In the future these sorts of grants could be used to provide small essential applications that are normally bundled with commercial OSes.

    Make it an Open Source tithe, tied to the use of the penguin. If you want to use Tux, give us some bucks!
  • And it reminds me of an idea that I once had. It would be possible to have a foundation that is specifically designed to spread money through the OSS community. The way that it could work is that people make donations through the foundation to a specific person who writes OSS software. The foundation would then pay that person, say, 1/3 of that donation, and have the other 2/3 divided up between a number of people who contributed to the success of their project.

    Those people would in turn get a portion, and pass the bulk on, and divide up the pie further. And so on until the total amount in question fell down to some limit, like $50. In this way the money gets divided between all of the contributers, even though the person making the donation probably does not know who any of them are. (Oh, and if this foundation is a registered charity, there is an extremely good chance under US tax laws that all payments would be tax-free!)

    I thought about it, I liked it, but I don't know whether the introduction of money in this way would lead to too many conflicts for it to be worthwhile...

    Ben Tilly
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There's never been so much financial incentive to challenge the GPL before. I predict that RedHat or one of the other IPO'ing linux companies will find it necessary to hide its code to protect vendor lock-in. There are lots of ways to make a distro incompatible with everyone else's, and it's just so much easier if you hide the source.
  • Your idea is definately interesting. I'd rather not see something like this though. There are just too many problems with it.

    This is not the best way to get money to programmers. It's kind of like a strange lottery. My fear is that smaller problems that don't seem to be a big deal would be overlooked. Developers would try to fix the big, prominent bugs instead of the smaller ones. But, small ones are often the hardest to fix.

    Nice idea, but I don't think it will work.
  • One way of rewarding open source developers would be to augment the Debian Bug Tracking software and allow users to offer a reward to the first developer who is able to close a bug. The user would make a maxmimum offer that is kept secret. The system would calculate the maxiumum reward, given that all bidders pay the same amount or nothing at all. After a bug has been fixed (or feature request satisfied) bidders who actually paid would be given a small bonus say an e-mail telling them the problem had been fixed, (and the developer would be forwarded the cash, a third party coud settle disputes).

    Several large projects use the Debian Bug Tracking System and any/all of them could benefit from this idea, you wouldn't even need to use real money though using actual money would probably be more effective.

    The main drawback with this system is that currently there is an atmosphere of good will and a sense of working towards a greater goal, money could spoil that and turn friends into enemies.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As far as I can tell, the whole Open Source movement was born out of the good-will and curiosity of hackers. Injecting that movement with money should not be necessary (it doesn't seem to be so far) and it couldn't possibly compete with the money awarded by more traditional companies anyway(ie. Microsoft et al. will always pay more than any Open Source Grant Foundation could).

    Right now, the major developments in Linux are Open Source based, therefore RedHat wants the OSI to enjoy success so that it can continue to sell its products. But by hanging dollars in front of people, more traditional companies may be inpired to develop for Linux (still helping RedHat) and may prove to increase non-open-source development.

    Just my 2-not-logged-in-cents.
  • Near the bottom of the article is a mention of cultivating the talent in Universities. This has always been ignored.

    How about this for a "foundation" venture - Get the Universities involved. Create a list of "good things to do" for the Open Source community. These could be anything - a new utility, a new feature on an existing application, documentation (for English majors), a web based resource on a topic (for Journalism majors perhaps?), example programming, anything.

    Take this list and give it to all the Universities as suggested Senior Projects - for credit. Shucks, while in school I had to complete 2 of these. Larger and more complex ideas could be candidate Masters Theses/Projects.

    Multiple takers on one idea would be OK - add a task to the list for the next semester to take and evaluate the solutions - and blend them into a better one.

    We keep talking about ways to pay OSS people for the work they do. How about rewarding students in their own coin - credit. Something interesting to put on that first resume. And the incredible reward of seeing something they worked on being used... everywhere. As a side note - what a benefit for the Universities as well - "Look at the cool stuff students here contributed to the WORLD. Come join our CS 'team'!"

    This is the idea Red Hat (or anyone else with the inkling) should be considering.
  • Good idea, I'm suprised something like the FSF or another organization hasn't offered something like that. It seems most open source developers are, in a educational community, can develop outside a 9-5 job or work for a really cool company that pays them to develop (Redhat, Transmeta). If you are in none of these sets, you must have inherited wealth, because how you pay for food, rent, and computer hardware to hack on, I dunno. Anyway, my point is, for people who would benefit from this, ie, people with neither inherited wealth or a job at a company like Redhat, I would certainly donate a small amount of my personal money to your cause. Hey, maybe I can even get my company to donate a bit! They use Linux on their servers, why shouldn't they!

    Another idea. Someone could start an not for profit organization, that can sell a distribution (perhaps just a package of debian or something), in retail boxes, for a price similar to redhat, and all of the money after the cost of distribution could be distributed among needy open source developers :-)

  • Well of course they are a for profit company, they have to eat right? Besides you can still get it for free just like you always could. I really think comparisons that liken RH to Microsoft are not very well thought out. No matter how big RH gets or how prevalent their distribution becomes you will always have a choice. OSI ensures that.
  • Everyone who received "The Letter" should try (if they can afford it) to by shares. Or wait until another vendor goes public (I'm looking into VA Linux). Even if you can only buy a small set of shares, you should.


    As pointed out in the article, the company has a responsibility to the shareholders. If those shareholders are hackers, then the responsibility is not only to make money, but mainly to provide a good open source solution and comply to standards. Since most hackers work better in a good open community.

    I don't even believe that hackers would invest in the sole reason a to make money, otherwise the would already be investing. Since I see the problem of ETrade and hackers, I don't think that many hackers are investing. So it looks that hackers have another incentive to invest. So please invest something, I intend to (but I didn't receive "The Letter" :( )

    If you strongly believe in open source, then invest and become one of those investors that have input. It's like voting, although you only have one vote, you can make a difference. If a large amount of hackers invest then Red Hat and company, will stay with the interests of their shareholders which would be to benefit hackers.

    So go out and invest!!!! :)

  • No kidding. Last I checked, RH was always a for-profit company, just like any other. The difference is in what they sell and how they sell it.
  • All companies are there to make a profit. How else are you supposed to eat?

  • I read a dilbert like that once, it went something like this:

    Boss: We have a new program where every employee gets $20 for every bug they fix.
    Wally: I think I'll go code myself a minivan.

    I think coders need money to survive, but you have got to figure out a way that doesn't encourage introducing bugs so you can fix them. I think companies like redhat are doing a fine job now of hiring people to work on software they need that is open source.
  • This sounds interesting. Just another thing to add: since faculty have tenure at most universities, this might also help to create a stable environment where ongoing development of a project could take place, with a faculty member as coordinator/'sponsor'.

  • As pointed out in the article, the company has a responsibility to the shareholders. If those shareholders are hackers, then the responsibility is not only to make money, but mainly to provide a good open source solution and comply to standards.
    Question for the legal beagles: Let's say a publically owned company does something that is utterly indefensible from a profit-making point of view, but pleases the people who own 51% of its stock. (E.g., the company gives away most of its assets to a cult that the majority shareholders belong to.) Do the unhappy 49% have grounds for a shareholder lawsuit?

    If the answer is "yes", then hacker shareholders won't be able to put openness ahead of money in RHAT's list of priorities.

BLISS is ignorance.