Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu, has penned an interesting post about their involvement and contribution to the open source/free software community. He is responding to some criticism that Canonical is not giving enough back. Mark makes an excellent point that there are many ways to give back and Canonical and Ubuntu have focus on making Linux more accessible to a wider audience. To me this makes perfect sense and Canonical should be applauded for their contributions to the community.
In fact, too often I think companies are measured based on their code contribution back to a particular project. Maybe companies should be measured based on their contribution back to the entire Open Source/Free Software commons, not just one project.
Open source/free software is mainstream. Finding a company that is not using open source software today is challenge. However, a lot fewer companies are actually participating and contributing back to the open source/free software commons. The companies that do participate tend to focus on a subset of projects. Some companies are more involved in Linux, some more in Apache or Eclipse, etc. However, the overall impact of these contributions is a huge software commons that is powering the internet and software industry. Each contributing company is uniquely adding value that benefits the entire industry.
The important question for the next five years is how do we encourage more companies to contribute to this software commons. How do we encourage more ISV’s, more enterprises to see the value of giving back to the communities they benefit from? How do we have more companies like Canonical thinking about how they balance the value derived vs value created from open source/ free software? My sense is that a lot of companies can and should be doing better. We in the open source and free software communities need to start working together to have more companies involved in the overall commons, not just one particular project.