Paid and Unpaid FOSS Developers: A Powerful Combo

by Sam Dean - Oct. 06, 2008Comments (1)

Joe Brockmeier has an interesting piece up on the differences between paid and volunteer open source contributors. In it, he cites this post from former Debian Project Leader Martin Michlmayr, and a paper by Evangelia Berdou. "Berdou finds that paid developers take up key positions in projects, while volunteers often work on the periphery." Kristin also had some good thoughts on the topic on OStatic this morning. I'm a believer that the combination of these two types of contributions can be very powerful.

Berdou's paper looks at GNOME and KDE, in particular, for how the combination of paid developers working on key components on a project can be complemented by outside developers. Linux development in general provides some good insights in this area.

If you take a look at the following list from Linux Foundation research into who contributes most to the Linux kernel, you'll see many familiar commercial names, including some that may surprise you as being so involved with Linux:

An analysis from the Linux Foundation adds this about what's seen on the list: ""Distributors like Red Hat, Novell, and MontaVista have a clear interest in making Linux as capable as it can be. Though these firms compete strongly with each other for customers, they all work together to make the Linux kernel better." Volunteers add to that effort, and their influence is seen at the top of the list.

What I wonder is whether groups of core paid developers could start having more influence over the many projects that are developed solely by unpaid developers. This might seem like a questionable cost center for many software companies, but if the companies choose promising projects, it's precisely the combination of what the paid developers and the unpaid ones do together that could benefit business and independent open source users alike.

Kristin has much more analysis and some specific points from Berdou's paper in her post from this morning.

Abhijit Prabhudan uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


What several folks fail to realize is that certain tasks are just done better when there are financial incentives in place. For example, improving the UI of projects, or even their websites can be done quickly and efficiently if someone just contracts this out to a firm. Look at how professional Ubuntu's site looks vs, say, Debian. Code-wise, they are practically the same, but Ubuntu has put the user front-and-center, and has money behind it to fuel this. Money DOES help!

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