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Succeeding with Open Source: Chapter 1, Overview of Open Source

Read this excerpt from Chapter 1, Overview of Open Source from Bernard Golden's "Succeeding with Open Source."

Who Creates Open Source?
A consistent question regarding open source is, "Who writes open source software?" A second, often-unasked question is, "Why would anyone work on open source?" Many people don't understand why someone would program without financial compensation, because they view programming as unfulfilling drudgery. Alternatively, many people believe that open source developers must be students or unemployed, with an assumption that they work on open source in place of a real job.

Who creates open source software and how they support their work on open source is, however, key for pragmatic users. IT organizations need to use software that will be available and supported for the long term --their software infrastructure must be "futureproof." Relying on software created by people who are uncommitted for the long term is too risky. After all, no IT organization wants to find that a key piece of technology is suddenly orphaned because the developers lost interest or had to "get a real job."

Of course, the availability of source code makes a product futureproof in some sense. Even if the developers end their involvement with an open source product, users have the source code itself to rely on for use in the future. This really isn't enough for most IT organizations, however. Almost all commercial enterprise software purchases come with source code escrow agreements, which make the product source available if the vendor goes out of business. IT organizations avoid doing business with vendors when they suspect the escrow conditions might come into play, however. IT organizations want working software, not a code base. Source code escrow arrangements are a last resort, not a procurement strategy.

Therefore, most IT organizations do not perceive the source availability of open source products as their path forward. Even those that work with source code want to contribute to ongoing product development rather than taking on sole responsibility for the product. Therefore, the question of who creates open source software remains key. Who are open source developers? Can they be relied on to create a long-lived product?

Fortunately, there is good information available about the open source development community. In 2002, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)1 carried out a large survey of the open source community in cooperation with SourceForge, an open source portal. They did this to better understand the potential of open source as well as how much risk is present for open source users. BCG contacted more than 1,500 randomly chosen open source developers with a Web-based survey and received more than 500 responses. The findings of the survey provided a snapshot of the open source development community; more important, the findings contradicted the assumptions many people have about open source developers. (The complete findings of the survey can be found at

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