Ryan Lowe’s Blog

Free Software Realities
James Robertson has linked to a few capitalist rants by Clemens Vasters: one and two. Ponder this quote from Clemens: “selfish is not the one who wants to get a tangible reward for his work. Selfish is the one who denies that reward.”

I’m glad I’m not alone in disagreeing with him and I didn’t think I would be. I was going to write a comment on James’ blog about his latest post but it got long so I’ll post it here instead:

Isn’t it kind of silly to be having a conversation about this? I mean, do people expect open source developers to say “hey, ya … you know what? I’m wasting my time. You’re right. OK, let’s go back to the old way so everyone can get a paycheck. We all deserve it.” It ain’t gonna happen. There will always be enough control freaks and freedom idealists to commoditize the next software market with free software.

There’s clearly a difference of opinion here. On one hand we have people who are looking for something in return for their investment of time. Open source has some qualities that allow those people to do that (free marketing, public speaking fees, increased feedback, bugfixes, whatever). That’s fine, that’s great, I can appreciate that. You need to support a family and I need to support my Mac hardware fetish.

But there is a segment of the free software world that just doesn’t see it that way. They pump out code for the greater good, or to boost their egos and not their wallets. These people will not be convinced by capitalists ranting about losing earning potential … in fact they will be driven the other way and be motivated to stick it to you. As software developers looking to get paid I think we owe it to ourselves to understand the rationale behind this “competition”. I think it’s great that I can get paid for my hobby and call it a career … but I’m also realistic. Enough hobbyists working for free will marginalize me, so I’ll just have to watch out and stay ahead of them. Free software has too much momentum now.

I know I’m naive — and I can conveniently use my youth as an excuse. But I’m also realistic about free software. It’s serious competition … and you aren’t going to convince too many free software developers to start coding only for dollars just because you think it’s “selfish” not to charge for their work. Oh no, they’ll just see it the other way … it’s selfish for you to expect to get paid for something someone else will do for FREE in their spare time. That’s life in the software industry of the next 30 years … that’s what I’m expecting.

Naive would be thinking that free software won’t impact your market niche or that you can convince people to change their minds. It will have an impact and you can’t change enough minds to make a difference at this point. People are getting a taste of software freedom (that’s the free that should be emphasized, not the code) and they like it. So you might as well start figuring out how to make money despite free software’s existence. I’m naive about business but I know that much … and I can see it coming from a mile away. Oh, and so can IBM.

Software developers seem to have it in their heads that they will always have jobs and it’s just not the case. Remember, this “market” didn’t exist 50 years ago. If you lose your job because of free software don’t blame free software, blame yourself for not having the foresight to move on to greener pastures and better opportunities. If you want a secure job, the software “industry” is not a good place to look for one. Things change too quickly.

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