Matt Asay certainly views FLOSS differently than many others. Today he wrote, “Each of us contributes (or doesn’t) out of perceived self-interest. Now, it may be that Amazon will come to feel that contributing to open-source projects like Linux correlates with its self-interest, as Google has, and will open up over time. Fine. But let’s not pretend that there are compelling normative arguments that demand it do so on anyone’s terms but its own and those of the open-source licenses it uses. “
Matt Asay doesn’t get sharing. The world needs software and FLOSS is a great way to produce it. If someone needs some software and can produce it they should. They also get to use all the software floating around in the community of FLOSS to go along with that. That is the right thing to do. Otherwise that software may not be written and our world in which we are social beings depending on and supporting each other will be poorer. It is a moral imperative of every human being and their organizations to try to make the world a better place. That’s good for everyone, not just the one doing the good work.
Matt Asay gives the example of the Linux kernel as one where folks contribute out of self-interest, hardware makers in particular. It may be true that a maker of hardware will see it in their best interests to write drivers or whatever to promote sales of their products but most FLOSS is not in the kernel and their are many other motivations involved. SUN bought Star and opened the code of StarOffice because it cost them little in comparison to the cost of one round of licences for non-free software, that other office suite. They gave back and it was not really in their self-interest to do so. They had what they wanted, a good office suite. Google does not make a penny from distributing Android because it is FLOSS but their products will do better in a world with FLOSS infrastructure. That’s very indirect and hardly qualifies as selfishness. MySQL was opened because the developers saw the FLOSS as a great way to get people using their software, with low cost of entry. That’s like free advertising for them. The guys who wrote BusyBox did it for unselfish reasons:”Originally written by Bruce Perens in 1996, BusyBox’s original purpose was to put a complete bootable system on a single floppy that would be both a rescue disk and an installer for the Debian distribution.“. It’s now rampant all over the place.
So, I am not a physician, but it seems to me Matt Asay has tunnel vision and has a very narrow view of the merits and reasons for the existence of FLOSS. Too bad.
UPDATE Joe Brockmeier has a good article on this. He uses the terms “seal-clubbers” or contributors… That’s a little harsh but his point is clear. People should give back. I do a lot of educating and introductions of FLOSS. I should do something. Everyone who uses FLOSS should do something. It’s the right thing to do.