Open Source after the apocolypse

Looks like Red Hat’s CEO is making a point about Open Source being dominant in the wake of the global financial crisis.  So what does this mean for the people who write, code, and distribute Free software?

Hiring and Keeping FLOSS Developers

Hiring open source developers is a tricky role. They need the freedom to contribute to their project, which is probably outside of your business goals. If they are unable to gt enough time to do their goals, then two several things happen:

  • Their open source project suffers through lack of time devoted to it
  • Their enthusiasm for their commercial goals suffer, since their open source effort is waining
  • The open source project may indirectly feed back to the company goals, so the company suffers from Free projects it can use commercially
  • The employee leaves, and you have to train a new employee (and pay recruiters, etc).

So, Google has a “20% time” programme, where staff can work on (approved) projects. This avoids the above conflict. Ergo, Google has some very enthusiastic and dedicated staff. And a lot of them.

Clearly there is a cost uplift, but the feedback loop does exist, if the management framework can understand it (and the purse strings can afford the 20% cost overhead of having enough staff to cover the workload).

Where do the current FLOSS developers end up?

Well, with a head start on a large number of technologies, and an understanding of the way projects come / go / survive / fork / die, established FLOSS practitioners end up… leading, from the front. Which means becoming management. Which means reporting, directing, and not actually doing the work, which for some is a motivation in itself.

So, shake the dust off and move away from the coal face. Start pointing at the seams from the back, and watch others try to tackle it.

Where will we start seeing Open Source in the Enterprise?

With major releases in the last few weeks of, and Gimp, and a slew of other projects, there is now a set of tools that cover the majority of what the corporate desktop actually needs. And these are on the Win32 platform, which the enterprise is comfortable with. 3 now can read Microsoft Office 2007 file formats. Admittedly its “import” only, but it can save to Microsoft Office 2003 file formats, and thats enough of a bridge. Besides, if someone wants to save to any other format, they can contribute to the project to make it happen.

Gimp is starting to look more polished. What it needs is more examples to get the users who think of Photoshop as a verb to understand that photo editing doesn’t start and end with one commercial product.

Getting Group policy support for these projects on their Win32 is a “nice to have”, but probably wont happen (unless someone feels stronly about it enough to do it themselves), but moving this to the Linux environment should become easier.

Update 2008-10-22

A contrary opinion.