OpenSource != amateurs

Maybe I’m just too tired, but this post from Matt Asay is touching a nerve over here. I know the sentence I’m quoting is not his, but seeing him backing such a statement with no comment at all makes me wonder:

OpenOffice is an extremely complex mountain of source code. As far as I know, in the five years it has been available as open source, not one contribution to the program has come from amateurs. The outsiders who have provided input have been full-time professionals employed by Linux companies to help make the software credible.

I’ll leave the OpenOffice quality argument aside: suffice to say it’s enough for my needs, even though it makes me grunt at times. What makes me mad is reading between the lines how the lack of “amateur” (sic!) contributions and the fact that most contributions come from paid developers somewhat diminishes the value of true Open Source (whatever that is) and clearly explain why OOo is failing. Now, since when did the Open Source definition include the idea that paid development isn’t true to the Open Source spirit? Who decided that metrics for Open Source quality have to include individual and uninterested contribution of people working exclusively for fun or ideology?

It seems to me that these guys never are largely unaware of the large crowd of people who, while being committed to Open Source (and sometimes zealots as well), happen to make a living somewhat from OSS development, be it by working for some BigCo, helping out smaller ones, or just running their shop. Fair enough, when BigCos enter the Open Source arena there are lot of troubles ahead, and we all know how much harm hidden agendas, corporate politics, and paid developers with no motivation/committment can do to any projects. However, this doesn’t rule out at all the role of people that, while having a proven track record as OSS volunteers and enthousiasts, also manage to pay their bills with some kind of paid job or self-employment around the projects they like. And definitely it doesn’t rule out the role of companies employing these guys because they fit in their (necessarily somewhat evil) corporate agenda.

Sure, there are OSS projects out there that scare people away: I’m definitely not going to delve into OOo code to scratch my itches, and the same goes for Firefox, Eclipse et al. But I don’t feel the value of such projects diminished at all by the idea that only people with full-time availability will actually be able to deal with the source mammoth. If I really need to draw a line, that would be around the diversity concept: as long as a project is able to catalyze different interest and build communities that foster communication, the Open Source concept is alive and kicking, and it really doesn’t matter much if a project community is focused on corporate strategies rather than individuals’. As long as we’re talking about diverse corporate strategies with community processes that allow for shared participation and governance. Despite a clear lead from the mother ship, OOo belongs to that crowd. So (possibly more) does Eclipse.

Now, back to that “OOo sucks” argument, just for completeness sake, well, I guess I have to basically agree when talking about complex needs. But, while this is clearly a tell-tale sign of a specific problem for that project, there is no need to generalize that into an “Open Source without individual amateurs contribution is doomed”, as the outlined article seems to hint.

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2 thoughts on “OpenSource != amateurs”

  1. By “amateurs” I he might have meant professionals programmers in user organizations instead of professional programmers in IT product development organizations.

  2. Well, whatever: call them amateurs, call them passers by, I still don’t buy the idea that if there isn’t a constant flow of patches coming from unrelated people the community is nonexistent…

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