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Does open source exploit?

Are developers getting a bad deal from open source, or are they just the Johnny Appleseeds of the tech world?

It appears to me that a lot of open-source software (“Open source 101,” February) whether at the operating-system level (Linux) or the application level, has been and is being written by volunteers.They have helped create the basis for what then has become marketed products, and therefore volunteerism is at the foundation of open-source product retailing. From what I have read, without their efforts there would not be much open-source software at all. Or, had the developers been compensated the price of that software would be much different.

It appears, then, that a lot of professional work has been done for no compensation and that situation forms the basis for this new category of software, and, key to it all, its lower cost.

I would think that this is quite different from, say, Microsoft and the other suppliers of software who pay and reward their employees for the work they do in a professional atmosphere.

I am all for volunteerism in other areas. But depending on volunteers to create something and then, in effect, exploiting that for the mass market is quite another thing. One would have to think long and hard to come up with an example of an industry of products for the mass market that is based on a significant amount of continuous use of uncompensated volunteer effort.

This lack of compensation is quite different from a company that goes through start-up with a lot of uncompensated effort by key personnel but where those officer-employees are later rewarded by the company through stock ownership.

I believe that employees should be justly compensated for their work. I also believe the cost to the user should reflect the professional work that goes into the product. I would go so far as to state a principled position against open source for the very reason that the products are built on the foundation of uncompensated labor–however willingly that labor was offered.

With that in mind the business model of traditional software firms–professional pay for employees doing professional work–starts to look to be the more principled of positions from the buyer-user perspective. — Larry DeVries, Eden Prairie, Minn., [email protected]

I’ve had the opportunity to chat with many Linux advocates about the basis of their work, and the “volunteerism” of it. While I think you have a point, that money is being made as a result of uncompensated labor, I think there’s an important element that you’re forgetting: The volunteers who work on open source have created a basis for products, not a “product” per se. Companies like Red Hat take that basis and develop products and services based on them that are then appreciated by the user community. But for Red Hat to try to compensate those who worked on that initial effort wouldn’t be quite right. It’s like paying a farmer the same amount for seeds as you would for ripe vegetables. The seeds may have been harvested by a volunteer collective, but it’s the farmer that put in the time to grow them into something edible. He deserves the compensation, just as those who develop open source seeds into something usable should be compensated.

I’ve never met a programmer yet who feels that Linux developers are being taken advantage of–quite the opposite, usually. I’m sure that some exist, but I think they’re in the minority. Instead, it seems that open source advocates embrace the volunteerism model because it gives them the opportunity to build a better tech world, basically. They are the Johnny Appleseeds of the movement, and I think they’re unconcerned if other people sell those apples long after they’ve gone onto other fields. — Elizabeth Millard, senior editor, ComputerUser

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