OSS, Agendas and Commercial Profits

There have been some discussions lately about open source software and the corporate agendas that are tied to them. A thread on Javalobby where someone accuses IBM for having an agenda to sell WSAD and Sun having an agenda for NetBeans. Also Marc Fleury, making what I find to be the obvious statement that few people do work for free.

I must admit I am biased but this all seems a bit too obvious to me. Sure there are small open source projects that are staffed by volunteers and these proejcts are very important. I use RSSOwl everyday and I am thankful to Ben for making such a great RSS reader freely available.

However, projects like Eclipse, Apache, Linux, Mozilla all have paid professional developers working as committers and form the backbone of the projects. Mike Milinkovich was recently quoted that 90% of the committers at Eclipse are paid by a commerical company. I don’t see this as being a bad thing? However, open source is more than just the committers, each of these projects is supported by large community of volunteers that test, submit bug fixes (sometime with code), write white papers and tutorials. This is really what makes open source special and such a powerful force.

Does the involvement of commerical companies include corporate agendas and, dare, I say it ‘profits’. Duh, yes. Is this a bad thing? It could be but I think the beauty of the open source model is that it makes it pretty transparent. Lets be clear, software companies contributing to open source communities are trying to sell software, services and support. That is there business after all.

I don’t see it as a bad thing that IBM would like people to buy their commercial tools that are built on Eclipse. For example, lets take the complaint that Eclipse is late to have a JSP editor and it was IBM’s way to force developers to buy WSAD. I have no knowledge about IBM’s product strategy but I do know that a JSP editor for Eclipse has been available from M7, Exadel, Genuitec. Nothing is forcing someone to buy IBM software. This is the true beauty of open source and Eclipse being a common platform. Companies can have agendas but open source provides a guarantee of no vendor lock-in.

Software companies making profits by being involved in open source software is good. This allows projects like Apache, Mozilla, Linux and Eclipse to prosper. In fact, I would love for all the Eclipse users to buy commerical products from the many vendors in the Eclispe ecosystem. This makes Eclipse stronger.