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Without Jobs, Will Open Source Suffer?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the worth-asking dept.

Software 275

darthcamaro writes in with an interview with Markus Rex, Novell's top Linux exec and the former CTO of the Linux Foundation. While some open source vendors see the current economy as a boon to open source, the interview concludes with Rex's speculation on the contrary possibility. "The other thing is in both Europe and the US the rise of the unemployment rate is something that is rather unprecedented... The open source community to a certain degree is dependent on the willingness of people to contribute. We see no indication that anything might change there, but who knows? People need something to live off." Have you thought about scaling back open source work as the economy continues to contract?

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275 comments

Not Steve (5, Funny)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010745)

Heh... was I the only one who misread this as something to do with Steve Jobs? (And subsequently went "Murrrrrh?")

Re:Not Steve (3, Insightful)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010753)

lol, like we'd ever need him..

Re:Not Steve (2, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010811)

If you make something that is significant, people will always find a way to support you, even if the mechanisms by which they generally give that support are lacking.

If you've already writing OSS, and you've got the capacity to build something significant, are you going to skip it and go work on a dirt farm for a few dollars a day?

Maybe, but I expect the author of that article will be on the dirt farm first.

Re:Not Steve (4, Insightful)

RCL (891376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011091)

If you make something that is significant, people will always find a way to support you, even if the mechanisms by which they generally give that support are lacking.

Not really. There's quite a few historical examples of inventors who did not profit from the significant things they invented.

It's not enough to create something "significant", it has to be also useful for people. And frankly speaking, OSS projects way too often pursue the goals of their creators, not their users (take KDE4 as an example).

Re:Not Steve (4, Funny)

thered2001 (1257950) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010767)

Nope, not the only one. He really should change his name during these times of high unemployment. Maybe 'Jobbes'? Or he can try to get the English word changed...he might just be able to pull that off.

Re:Not Steve (3, Informative)

morgauo (1303341) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011159)

iJobs?

Re:Not Steve (1)

theJML (911853) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011485)

I agree... but if we made him change his name, then Robert Gates needs to change his, 'cause everytime I see a story heading "Gates says..." I'm like "Why would Bill say that? And who cares?

Re:Not Steve (2, Insightful)

wjsteele (255130) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010879)

Yep, it confused me too. Perhaps changing the title from "Jobs" to "jobs" would be appropriate here.

Bill

Title case vs. sentence case (5, Interesting)

Z-MaxX (712880) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011607)

After giving it some thought, I have decided that "Sentence case" is superior to "Title Case" from the viewpoint of precision. By capitalizing words in headings and titles of publications (of which there are many different ways to do it! [wikipedia.org] ), information is lost as to whether a particular word was a proper noun or not.

Furthermore, there are words (capitonyms) that completely change meaning and possibly pronunciation depending on the capitalization [wikipedia.org] . For instance, "polish your shoes" vs. "eat a Polish sausage", or "measure the mass" vs. "go to Mass".

Using title case is a lossy operation.

Re:Not Steve (4, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010947)

Me too. Funny thing is, the last article that WAS [slashdot.org] about Steve Jobs I thought was about actual workers jobs. People should start using his first name!

Re:Not Steve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011013)

Nope, you are not the only one, I thought the exact same thing.

Re:Not Steve (1)

Wisconsingod (995241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011293)

Yesterday we were given an article on Steve, and we all thought workers.... today we are given an article on workers, and we thought Steve. Slashdot Header Writers, try to get it together and clarify!

Re:Not Steve (1)

fprintf (82740) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011311)

Not at all. That they used capital "J" in the title is misleading. It wasn't until I read the summary that I figured it out. Very confusing to say the least, and a good lesson that proper capitalization is important!

Re:Not Steve (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011609)

In a title, all major words are capitalized. It is only short common words like "the", "is", "in", "to", etc that are not capitalized. Had they used a lower case J, the grammar Nazis would have jumped all over it.

Re:Not Steve (1)

immakiku (777365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011517)

Drats... tricked again. Just yesterday I thought employment was returning [slashdot.org] .

Re:Not Steve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011575)

It would make a much more interesting article if that was the case.

Ridiculous (5, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010763)

People need something to live off

This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

Re:Ridiculous (5, Insightful)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010809)

This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

Re:Ridiculous (4, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010897)

Except that contributions to open source projects are both good resume-fodder and a good way to get noticed by potential employers.

I know a job search is hard work, but I'm not sure it's going to take as much time as a fulltime job... meaning that much more time to play with Xorg, or whatever else.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011049)

I totally agree, especially if you're looking for work as a developer. Saying "I wrote feature X for project Y" goes a long way toward proving to a potential employer that you know you how to write code, especially if project Y is related in some way to the job you're applying for.

(I'm someone who has sat on the interviewer side of the interview table, so I know of which I speak.)

Ridiculous Past. (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011075)

"Except that contributions to open source projects are both good resume-fodder and a good way to get noticed by potential employers."

And how many contributors have actually gotten jobs in this recession and subsequent layoffs? Remember we're really just getting started with this downturn. The story's basically asking what if it continues on much longer? Not saying, "well in the past..."

Re:Ridiculous Past. (1)

qbzzt (11136) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011591)

And how many contributors have actually gotten jobs in this recession and subsequent layoffs?

Probably very few. But it's still a better bet than if you don't have anything to show.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

koutbo6 (1134545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011371)

not to mention a good way to start a consultancy or service company.

Re:Ridiculous (5, Funny)

Kozz (7764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011053)

No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

I'll have you know that the behavior of Xorg's gonkulator is functioning exactly as intended. Marking this entry as RESOLVED: WONTFIX.

Re:Ridiculous (0, Offtopic)

andrewd18 (989408) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011107)

If only I had mod points...

It won't affect anything. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011169)

Getting a job *IS* a job. So what's the difference? Unemployed who want to contribute to open source will "just call it a day" and start relaxing and code something they'll like.

Or who knows? Maybe they'll join an open source project to add it to their Resume.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

Jimmy King (828214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011271)

Or even writing apps they might be able to make some money off of such as various mobile phone apps which are still reasonably done by a single person, some sort of web service, etc. Something that could get the attention of a potential employer and myabe bring in a little bit of much needed income if they're good and/or lucky.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011279)

On the other hand, I have a project which I intend to open source, and I almost wish I would be fired (with a severance package, naturally) so I would have ample time to work on it.

Re:Ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011365)

No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

Or they'll be doing that in the time they would have normally been working their 8-5 and still contribute to their hobby FOSS project in their 'free' time.

Re:Ridiculous (3, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011567)

No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

That's the same crap argument that always gets thrown out. Searching for a job isn't something you can reasonably do 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. It takes no appreciably greater amount of the day to look for work than it does to go to work. After you've gone to 3 interviews and sent of 20 more resumes, what are you going to do after 6pm, when most offices are closed? Sit at home for 3 hours and obsessively tune your resume? After every day? Un-fucking-likely.

Re:Ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27010815)

I think the point is that when you have "extra" it's not a problem to give things away for free. However, if you can't pay your rent or don't have enough to buy food I don't think your priority is going to be working on something for free. Of course anything that detracts from the "Open Source Rulez Supreme" mantra must be shot down.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010967)

People need something to live off

This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

I know you're right, but could you explain the economic reality in a bit more detail, for the uninitiated like myself who are as knowledgeable? Thanks.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010977)

I meant "not as knowledgeable".

Re:Ridiculous (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011123)

Even though OSS is not quite the same as "pro bono" work for a lawyer, there are similarities. (I know in some (most? all?) states, lawyers are required to do so many hours of pro-bono work.)

Anyway, think of it this way: you're in-between cases and business is a little slow, so you take on some pro-bono work. You know, to keep your skills sharp.

Does that prevent you from finding more paying work? Not really, because in doing so, you're talking with and collaborating with other people in your field, which is good for networking. Plus, you can always spend so many hours on the pro-bono case, so many hours on finding some paying work, etc. I know lawyers don't have to do that much to find payihg work, but you get the drift at least, I hope.

In any case, doing OSS work is the same: your networking with fellow developers, you can still spend time finding paying work, etc. Only with OSS work, unlike pro-bono work, there's really no deadlines or anything. If you don't get your code in fast enough to make it into the next release, it just isn't included in the next release. No big deal, really.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

Lloyd_Bryant (73136) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011309)

People need something to live off

This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

I know you're right, but could you explain the economic reality in a bit more detail, for the uninitiated like myself who are as knowledgeable? Thanks.

The reality is that only a very small percentage of open source programmers actually *live* off of open source programming. The overwhelming majority of contributors to OSS projects are employed doing other things (usually but not always computer related), and simply code for the fun of it. Being unemployed will have minimal effect on these contributors (unless their financial situation reaches a point where they can't afford an internet connection any more, that is). "Looking for a job" is *not* an 8 hour a day, 5 day a week task, so these people may have even *more* time than they did before to work on OSS.

This economy will probably put a dent in the number of jobs where employers willingly allow employees to work on OSS projects during working hours (and given standard management techniques in the tech sector, which includes "reducing headcount" and "pile the extra work on the remaining employees", there will probably be a reduction the number of non-working hours employees have as well), so the still-employed may contribute less than before.

But the notion of "I'm unemployed so I can't do any OSS stuff" is pretty ludicrous...

Re:Ridiculous (1)

RCL (891376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011127)

When you'll have to work from 9 to 21 six days a week as a professional code monkey, you are not going to contribute much to OSS during evenings

Boredom is worse than poverty (5, Insightful)

NReitzel (77941) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010777)

Were I unemployed, I would still contribute to open source projects. The only thing I think would be worse than being jobless and broke would be being bored, jobless, and broke.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (3, Funny)

Main MAn (162800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010839)

What you mean bored? Go watch some TV. If nothing else there is always some infomercials going on!

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (1)

phatsphere (642799) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010899)

i hope thats sarcasm. open source means that you actively build something on your own. watching tv is just consuming and passive. i prefer active.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010911)

Yes, watch TV rather then work on something which you could put on a CV. You sir are a genius.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (1)

femto (459605) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011263)

Even though you are joking, you might be interested in: Clay Shirky: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus [blip.tv] (transcript [worldchanging.com] )

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010937)

Were I unemployed, I would still contribute to open source projects. The only thing I think would be worse than being jobless and broke would be being bored, jobless, and broke.

Idk about you, but if I were unemployed - I'd try to work. Now, it depends how much cushion money I have. If I could live of my saving for a year, I'd probably contribute to a OS project hoping to get noticed. If I didn't. Well, I'd probably forget about programming pet projects for a while and get any job I can in any industry, or come up with some money making scheme like that guy who made $700k programming some iPhone artillery game over the course of a month.

I can see OS development slowing down. But by the same token, closed source as well, and even worse. Computer upgrades won't be such a big priority, for sure. Perhaps distros like Ubuntu will benefit as well, as places are looking for something less labor intensive to maintain than windows -- which means less sys admins to pay.

OTOH, with some developers unemployed, they may be more willing to tweak OS to a potential customer's needs.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011467)

Idk about you, but if I were unemployed - I'd try to work.

Being able to point to your devblog and say "this is the code I've been writing over the last six months of unemployment" looks a lot better than "I've done nothing but write resumes for six months and I'll spend my first month trying to remember what an IDE looks like".

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (1)

jerep (794296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011015)

I completely agree with you, I remember the days when people thought "with open source, will jobs suffer?".

In my opinion, the idea of a job is just putting a price upon certain tasks, not having a job doesn't mean you cannot do that task unless you despise it. But having one usually does add the mediocrity factor that you must produce more within less time and that gives us crappy products.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011201)

I think the in some cases people will not do any work on open source.

In many of our cases open source is filling a need or want. We do it because it is fun or we need some doohikie.

Now when you are worrying about how to pay the next car payment, mortgage payment, where to get the money just for food, how soon am I going to get evicted.

You do not really feel up to doing 'fun' anything due to something called depression. You dont really need the new doohikie code because you can not afford the widget that the doohikie code would control.

So you end up sitting around watching tv. Sending out resumes to be ignored.

Re:Boredom is worse than poverty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011489)

If you added "live with your parents", I would have thought you were George Kostanza

Post Anonymously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27010779)

Without jobs, everybody suffers.

Re:Post Anonymously (1)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011197)

There are some nuances in play, though, that I think are actually beneficial here. My employer has a heightened interest in OSS because of its zero cost of entry and is more willing to spend money on just support contracts. This has in effect been beneficial to OSS as a whole because economic situations are encouraging firms to go that route. This would have the net effect of not only benefiting OSS, but creating jobs in that sector of IT spending.

It should flourish. (5, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010787)

If all those programmers that are unemployed want to keep their skills sharp they better find a project or two to join and keep on coding.

Honestly sitting on the couch for 3 months eating cheetos and playing the Xbox does not make you a useful coder when you finally get another gig. Laid off? go to sourceforge and find something you would like to contribute to, contact the team, and get cracking. Keeps you sharp and you will get spoiled by the no deadline freedom.

Plus, it's a great resume item (5, Interesting)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010825)

I know I got my current job because I had some code in the Linux kernel. Being able to show your code to prospective employers is good advertising.

Re:It should flourish. (4, Informative)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010893)

I agree. For the reason you stated, and that I was bored, I did a lot more open source coding when I was jobless than I do now.

And it -did- help me get a good job as well.

Re:It should flourish. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011135)

I would agree. OSS contributions are driven by a a number of things but I imagine "itch to scratch" and "experience building" are among the top reasons. Those two are more dependent on free time than income. In a downturn there is likely more of the former.

I could see the nature of contributions changing if there is a decrease in businesses paying people to develop OSS. Perhaps it will lead to an increase in diversity of projects and innovation while things like OSS drivers from hardware vendors will decrease.

Though, if businesses perceive that there is money to be saved by better leveraging OSS then it is conceivable that business contribution to OSS will increase due to a reluctance or inability to invest in proprietary software.

Re:It should flourish. (1)

RCL (891376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011179)

Well, you don't understand the problem. Nobody is going to sit on the couch for 3 months.

Instead, they will probably have to work in some startup, where people for 9 to 21 six or seven days a week without much time left for other activities - there will be not many "established" and "developer-friendly" companies willing to hire.

Re:It should flourish. (1)

iguana (8083) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011451)

I'm still employed and hope to be continually employed.

But in my spare time, I'm furiously hacking away on my own GPL'd application to:

1) perhaps sell it (in the MySQL model)
2) add new skills
3) add something additional to my resume

Scary economy has effect of making me work harder.

Paid positions will be harder to find (0)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010789)

In times of abundance, companies can justify spending on open source positions for a variety of reasons, but in times like these, it comes down to numbers: screw the public, what does it do for the company and its shareholders? If you can bring substantial value to those two, then it's business as usual. If not, then you're out of luck.

One thing is for sure, though, and that's that you cannot afford to let your involvement with an OSS project or community affect your job in this economy. If it is getting in the way by becoming a real factor in your work-life balance, then you need to drop it so that you can do the work you need to do and have a decent home life that won't impact your day job.

Re:Paid positions will be harder to find (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011337)

I don't know... Considering that it's oftentimes CHEAPER to do those "paid projects" than to go buy something from a proprietary vendor (Or even, in many cases, one of the commercial FOSS vendors...), you might find MORE "paid projects" happening.

It's not about "the community" in most cases with these projects, it's oftentimes more about suitability to task, overall cost, or both.

Re:Paid positions will be harder to find (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011481)

People being paid to do OSS work is less likely ... people doing OSS work anyway either in their free time or if unemployed in their copious free time will continue as normal

Having said that companies that reply on OSS software still need it fixed and improved and so they are likely to still throw resources at it, even if they cut back in the same way as they are elsewhere

Of course not! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27010801)

In Europe, unemployment benefits are good enough that we don't need to worry about starving or even losing net access, and with nothing else to do, contributing to open source projects can't be bad for one's programming career! With big enough contributions, you get a reputation, new contacts and something to reference in your CV.

Re:Of course not! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011133)

In Europe, unemployment benefits are good enough that we don't need to worry about starving or even losing net access
How long will that last? Europe will soon be infested with third world immigrants and politically and culturally dominated by an insane, violent, and highly vocal Islamic minority.

Re:Of course not! (1)

RCL (891376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011217)

Wonderful way of life, isn't it? How do you think, how long can it last? (Hint: until your government runs out of enough tax payers, then it will cut your unemployment benefit to something like 100 EUR/month)

Re:Of course not! (1)

robot_love (1089921) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011319)

Quite right. I've always found it curious that so many people have a complete disconnect between "The government gives me money" and "Where does the government get this money?"

Probably not (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010843)

Without Jobs, Will Open Source Suffer?

Even with him around, they barely contributed to the Mach kernel.

Yes, obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27010865)

This is a rather "no shit sherlock" kinda question. Yes -companies such as Sun and Novell can no longer afford to waste money throwing programmers at unending charity projects, and mainstream companies such as Microsoft need to explore revenue generating options such as more efficiently monetizing their intellectual property holdings.

Companies can no longer afford to pay for the free ride that computer users have grown accustomed to, and projects such as ubuntu and red hat are either going to need to justify themselves economically -or close shop.

TINSTAAFL, bitches!

Re:Yes, obviously (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010959)

Why would Ubuntu close shop? It's funded by a millionaire and since it started has been running at a loss anyway. What difference does it make if they run at a loss a little longer?

In fact that question doesn't even matter because they're finally breaking even.

Charity? (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011079)

I don't think those companies contribute to Linux as charity in the first place. More likely, they wanted to have some input in a system with growing market share. Red Hat is actually making a profit according to its latest quarterly report, so I don't expect them to close shop soon ;-)

Ubuntu might be an exception, as its founder Mark Shuttleworth has said he is doing it partly to return something to the community.

Not worth asking... (1)

Seriousity (1441391) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010867)

Contrary to the dept this came from, this question is not worth asking. Programmers are likely to continue to code whether they are unemployed or not, otherwise their skills would grow rusty. And the capitalization of Jobs made me think of Steve. Kdawson fails again TBCH :P

In a word... No. (0, Redundant)

Ash-Fox (726320) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010869)

In short, no.

Paychecks could care less about open source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27010885)

If you pay me to produce software you can slap whatever license on that software to your hearts content. But where did the idea that I should *work* for free? I can imaging giving it away, but not to work for free. Why don't farmers give food away for free? Why doesn't the car companies give cars away for free? Because their workers need to eat as well...

So, please separate the ideology from the payment. The license from the business plan. If open source will survive, it needs developers (that includes more than just code monkeys) that are paid. So let the value of your product and the quality of your product drive you, not the license.

Dubious assumptions? (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010901)

Stories like these seem to assume two rather dubious things: (1) that programmers always have a choice between work-for-nothing and work-for-something and (2) that all OSS is produced by volunteers for no money.

The second, we know is partially true, if altruism didn't exist OSS wouldn't work nearly as well; but definitely not wholly true, anybody can rattle off the list of big serious commercial players paying people to build OSS.

The first, though, seems a really weird assumption to make when talking about OMG Depression! conditions. For anybody who primarily works for a living(as opposed to primarily owning or investing) the more or less defining characteristic of bad economic times is low prices or no buyers for your labor. It isn't: "Well, times are hard, so I'm going to start selling the labor I used to give away.", it is "Times are hard, people aren't interested in buying the labor I want to sell."

There will probably be some cases where people who used to work relatively short hours at high wages will now work longer hours at lower wages, thus decreasing their OSS contribution; but I strongly suspect that, for most programmers(and people generally) the whole point of "depression" is that you can't just go and sell the labor you used to give away. If things get really dreadful, fall of the USSR style dreadful, we'll probably see less OSS and more subsistence farming and wood chopping; but garden variety economic slowdown would seem to have the opposite effect.

Cut their own throats, so to speak (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010913)

By driving the cost of software to zero, OSS developers have made it difficult for many people to act creatively due to the high cost of development. While OSS developers may make some money developing an open source software package, they have essentially forever undercut anyone who might have also developed something similar. This isn't to say that closed source products are somehow more encouraging of competition, but simply that OSS stakes out the monopoly position as its first step (by pricing everything else out of the picture) whereas closed source companies must work hard to make every sale.

This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to closed source competition. Whereas OSS is driven by addressing specific needs, closed source must compete on its merits and advantages. This leads to very utilitarian software for OSS (Ubuntu) and much more colorful and creative software for closed source (Apple's OSX).

In fact, there is probably a middle ground that many hardware manufacturers are already taking. By pairing the utility of OSS with the style of closed source, they are able to build very interesting devices that not only look good, but also function well. And at the same time, by focusing on developing products with merit and advantages, these hardware makers are keeping competition alive and engineers employed. So maybe the middle ground is to write closed source software and steal from the unemployed OSS guys.

Re:Cut their own throats, so to speak (1)

Skuto (171945) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011165)

>By driving the cost of software to zero, OSS
>developers have made it difficult for many people
>to act creatively due to the high cost of
>development. While OSS developers may make some
>money developing an open source software package,
>they have essentially forever undercut anyone who
>might have also developed something similar.
>
>This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally
>of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to
>closed source competition.

There's at least 2 fallacies here:

1) If the OSS software is truly worse, either the system using it will be worse, or someone needs to do the work for fix it up or hammer it into shape -> jobs.

2) Companies who make products made entirely out of off-the-shelf OSS are at big risk of having someone undercut their price. The more value you add, the less risk of this happening.

Open Source software makes it possible to build more advanced stacks because there is a base to begin with. You don't need to reinvent the basics.

Now, it IS true that if your value added part needs to be open sourced due to the GPL, life gets quite a bit more difficult. Would be hard to build a business model on.

Re:Cut their own throats, so to speak (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011255)

Now, it IS true that if your value added part needs to be open sourced due to the GPL, life gets quite a bit more difficult. Would be hard to build a business model on.

I think this is the key point, especially going forward. The "Tivo-ization" of GPL software is something that is critical for the success of the companies building the devices, but it is detrimental to the OSS "movement" since it seems to be a loophole to take from OSS without giving back.

Since the GPL3 is designed to close this loophole, such companies, which I think we've already established have an important role in adding high value pieces to complete the whole picture, will be pushed away from GPL3 OSS into the arms of closed source vendors who will provide similar software stacks at very competitive prices.

Re:Cut their own throats, so to speak (1)

tkinnun0 (756022) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011535)

1) If the OSS software is truly worse, either the system using it will be worse, or someone needs to do the work for fix it up or hammer it into shape -> jobs.

This is the broken windows fallacy rephrased: it's good to build a house with broken windows, because fixing windows creates jobs.

Re:Cut their own throats, so to speak (3, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011565)

This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to closed source competition.

Did you mean that as a troll, or do you sincerely believe that?

Let's move past the "Windows vs Linux" argument first of all, as they each appeal to different types of people, and both have merits and downsides.

First, at the ultra-low-end, where you have Joe Sixpack dependant on one-click do-everything apps, I will agree that closed source has the edge, and for an obvious (IMO) reason - The same people interested in FOSS tend to want more control than such software provides.

At the ultra-techie end, you pretty much have your choices dictated by platform. For serious Windows development, you use Visual Studio (and I write that as someone who does prefer MinGW to Visual Studio, but I won't play dumb); For web development, Adobe has pretty much a hard monopoly (and again, I say that as someone who will not use Adobe dev tools). For the unixy and embedded markets, you either have FOSS or WindRiver (and in that case, FOSS has such a huge edge that WindRiver gave up on their own garbage and now just repackages FOSS tools).

So, let's consider the middle-to-advanced users, those who know they have a choice, but don't necessarily care about ideology, just results. I would of course point out FireFox and ThunderBird as crown jewels of open source; For DRM-unencumbered media players, you only have Open Source choices; For rippers (that don't impose their own DRM), again, pretty much all open source with the notable exception of SlySoft (which only has an edge at the moment because they beat us to the punch on BluRay ripping). For image editing, GIMP has a complicated interface with a steep learning curve - But so does Photoshop. For DAW, I honestly know more engineers using Audacity than Sonar/DP/GB/etc, with the exception that if you need custom hardware or realtime support, you don't have many choices there. For those who know the difference between word processing and text editing, the FOSS Notepad++ has pretty much crushed the competition for the text editor crown. For secure terminal sessions and most tunneling, everyone (in the Windows world) uses PuTTY; For (non-one-click) video format conversion, VirtualDub counts as pretty much the only choice...


So... I don't know that I'd call FOSS better than commercial apps, but in some cases yes, and in most cases comparable.

Re:Cut their own throats, so to speak (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011621)

You miss the point OSS software competes with the mass market software industry, it does not compete with the speciality software market, where you buy a "system" or "solution" that provides the hardware, installation, support, maintenance, and the software, in fact this is where OSS is most used as a base to add the speciality system on top of ...

OSS is not "generally poor or quality" the equivalent products are generally of much the same quality, you do not compare a small OSS Project with Office, the same as you do not compare most shareware with Apache.

Ubuntu is not Utilitarian! It can be as colourful and creative as OSX... if not more so ... ...OSX is a hybrid of OSS and closed source by the way

If you think you can "steal from the unemployed OSS guys" then either you are "stealing" BSD licensed software (which is legal and not stealing) or you are stealing GPL licensed software and *will* be sued ...

Unless I can't pay for internet (4, Insightful)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010919)

FOSS sounds like a great way to keep my skills relevant and honed. It will also help fill in those blank time periods which employers hate. I see you haven't been employed for the last six months. Oh well, I've been searching for a job and working for (this particular) project. Check out some of my work if you'd like, here is the URL...

Opposite effect? (4, Informative)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010925)

I would think that sacked software engineers would actually be more likely to start contributing to OSS ...

  • to build a portfolio
  • to keep their skills sharp
  • because they have the free time and it's enjoyable and/or civilly virtuous

[I can't RTFA because of content filtering where I'm at right now. So I'm guessing about its contents.]

Without jobs, Open Source will flourish! (5, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010945)

Every time I've been between jobs, I didn't sit around drinking 40s, eating doritos, and watching tv -- I worked on my own projects (websites and software) and some open source software. But when I spend all day working then come home and deal with dinner, running errands, other life stuf... that doesn't leave much time for working on open source software.

Companies Need Software (3, Interesting)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010997)

Speaking as a developer who uses lots of FOSS, I think as long as there are jobs there will be a demand for open-source software. I would be worried if I worked for IBM or BEA or any of the other vendors who sell expensive stuff. My company believes in open source and when we propose to use that sort of technology, our business customers don't bat an eye.

Open Source Benefits. (1)

naelurec (552384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27010999)

I think open source will benefit. There will be a certain number of people who are laid off that it will be extremely difficult to find a similar job. I'm thinking of people in industries and service sector jobs that were contracting before the downturn and have become much worse (the printing industry is one in particular I'm very familiar with).

These individuals will need to "reinvent" themselves to an extent. Getting involved in an open source project will give them some experience in a new field. In addition, others may consider this being a good time to start a business (I know many people who have the desire to start their own businesses but have been reluctant due to the imaginary security blanket of a corporate job). If these people want to be successful in this economy with a new venture, they will need to be very smart with their expenses which does generally equate to utilizing open source.

What a strange question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011005)

Lets see, whilst I'm working on programming for a living, I work in my own time on FOSS programming.

Why would I stop using my own time on FOSS programming when I'm unemployed? I have even MORE free time and I get paid exactly the same no money for it still, so no loss there.

If I were to have to work in some menial task for money, why would McDonald's have an employment contract that says "and you cannot work on FOSS projects even on your own time"?

It's a weird question.

Spin out (1)

DanJ_UK (980165) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011007)

Earlier I thought the article was about the economy, now I thought this article was about Steve Jobs.

*Sigh*

Do what Stallman did (1)

The Second Horseman (121958) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011031)

Get a MacArthur Genius Grant, and get paid to speak. Then you can do whatever you want in the rest of the time. After all, he's making a living without getting paid for writing code. It's good enough for him, it should be good enough for you.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011077)

I think Steve will be just fine. :P

If you want an employer perspective (3, Informative)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011099)

If I'm looking at fairly equally qualified candidates and one of them spent their off time contributing to an open source project, I would tend to see that as a very big point in their favor. To me that says they really enjoy what they do and have concerns that go beyond the bottom line. And that they care enough about their skills to keep them sharp while they were off.

Community service always looks good, even if that community is virtual. And that can make those of you coming out of college stand out from your peers. An open source project can give you very marketable experience.

Who Are You Gonna Hire? (4, Insightful)

s31523 (926314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011105)

Engineer A who was laid off and did nothing for 3 months except take his unemployment check..

OR

Engineer B who was laid off and did some work on an open source project where he/she learned some new things and kept their skills sharp?

I think the exact opposite would occur, No jobs equals more people who now have the time to jump in.

GPL /Free Software Creates Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011155)

Most software developers that I know, myself included, lean towards the artistry and expression outlet, and the money is a bonus. Most of us would be coding as a hobby even if we had to get a job at WalMart.

The free software landscape is an amazing resource. 20 or so years ago, to create a software product, beyond the couple grand for the computer, would cost an additional few grand for compilers, operating systems, and tools.

These days, a few hundred bucks for a computer and a free Debian/Fedora CD you can create virtually any software product you want. Furthermore, with libraries like wxWidgets, GTK, QT, etc. it is pretty trivial to make cross platform programs and services.

With the downturn in the jobs market, more and more people will be creating more and more different and interesting products in order to make more money. Proprietary software will be too expensive to do this, so developers will be driven to free software in order to survive. Licenses like GPL will require an amount of "give back." So the free software environment will expand.

Once developers get the hang of the GPL and figure out the boundary issues, they will discover more and more how much code is really available and how much easier it is to use it as a development base.

Enough health related stories already (1)

d-r0ck (1365765) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011191)

Yes one of the Apple founders has some health problems we get it already. This has nothing to do with open source. RTFA already people.

I've actually been thinking the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011205)

People who were responsible for me losing my job:
1. my incomplete skillset and my imperfection of my skillset
2. wall street
3. my boss and his lack of farsight
4. corporate frauds, malpractices which went unchecked
5. any cartel of companies who had a strangehold on the market that i could make money serving
6. my inability to sell PCs loaded with my OS and my programs
7. my govt not providing me with cheaper internet access
8. my overspending lifestyle where i did not bother saving part of the money i earned
9. now i'm panicking with everyone else
10. my inability to switch from employment to businessman mode

Let's see if opensource helps me undo or prevent any of these:

Points 1 and 10:
my incomplete skillset and my imperfection of my skillset
  Ease of obtaining complete documentation - complete understanding rather than hasty patches and jargon that might come with "unstable" technologies. What about software that I can test and install on my home workstation, which is not as high-end as my office workstation? What about needing to pay for licenses to get developer versions? What about the price-value bargain in certifications on any technology? Did I get time to stick to a couple of skillsets and master them? Or did I choose the wrong company which gave me no time to master any skillset. All I'm left with is working knowledge in the skillset and partial domain knowledge in the vertical i wrote code in. Google helped my like nothing else. Would Google survive without FOSS?

Points 2, 3, 4, 5, 7:
  No brainer - these guys put all the focus on the stock market index and took away focus from innovators - they've never used their vote to prevent the executive from enforcing IPR threats and maintaining a stranglehold on the market. The justification that the monopoly/cartel/oligopoly gives for every perceived unethical decision or inflammatory policy is shareholder value which governs every act. Are the said shareholders really that trustworthy? Are they really asking the executive to do what they are doing? Is the executive hoodwinking both the public and the shareholders and enjoying exclusive benefits? Is the corporate promotion of business being investigated at all for possible economic crimes? Unpaid taxes, loopholes, acts of ommission and commision? Corruption? Preferntial treatment due to personal contacts?
Can opensource do this? This is systemic and the relation is not obvious until you find that as an ISV or VAR, your products are NOT preferred because the oligopoly's products are the ones that the local string puller advocates, often because of kickbacks and barters. Has it directly hurt my product. Dman well it has. MegaCorp needs relatively much less effort to produce the app that competes with mine. I have to put great effort and make a beautiful product. But it does not sell because MegaCorp has asked partners to say no to any competitor as they get promotional incentives.

Points 6 and 10:
  If my next employer or my customer wants to pay ZERO money for hardware and sofwtare, what can i use to legally achieve this target? Will it sound more competitive to my prospective customer if I tell him that there's no license fees and that he owns the thing he runs? What if I tell him that NO, he does NOT need to upgrade and hardware at all, all he needs to do is just pay me well for my work. Will FOSS help me

Points 8 and 9:
Did I ever know that products with the same functionality or better existed at all which could be obtained at astonishingly lower prices? Have I totally, completetly been ignorant of a whole array of production grade software which comes with very little upfront investment on procurement which eases my finances a bit for the next 6 months to one year by which time I hope to be able to improve the condition and get things into better shape.
Do people want to buy stuff that is functionally equivalent and nearly zero price from me, a small time developer, instead of Megacorp, whose money goes into pockets of the rich mostly? Do I get to invest and get back returns on my investments or does MegaCorp have a insider system of foreknowledge of market crashes? Have I lost money because of ignorance of insider knowledge? If this is so, which is the MegaCorp strill profiting in this period of economic gloom? If it still is profitable when everything else is gloomy, is there something more than meets the eye?

Would mass adoption of FOSS help my chances of getting a sale ahead of MegaCorp's?

Looks like FOSS is good for me a small developer, if given basic protection by law from cartels. Has there been a situation where certain names have been proven manipulators or convicted of crimes?

Has my ignorance of availability of alternatives added to my worry and panic?
If so, what should be done to prevent this kind of gloom by increasing awareness of the alternative?
Is this an economically profitable activity given that people want to see "costs less but works the same" stamped over anything they consider a worthwhile buy today? Can this be used as a selling point? Do I have to spend money getting myself trained in this new skillset? Can I learn on my own since I plan to keep whatever I have saved, safely till things become better.
Is there another economic or business system across the world or anywhere that I can work with or in and completely mitigate all the effects of this economic crisis? The internet has made location redundant in many ways. So, is there a market out there which i can target and get by in this recession?

If I get answers to these questions and they point to FOSS, think I'll not hestitate to start learning this new skillset. I can take a month or two and get on track with this and then compete on the "lower price" and "no new hardware needed" points.
And I'll give valuable free content and programs that are unrelated to my core sales to build a utility brand and good relations with prospective customers. Does opensource help me in this? If yes, then why not adopt this set of skills, it is free and open after all. And there is a lot of work to be done, as President Obama said.

Asking for $$? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011221)

I very recently came across a situation where an open source (driver) developer put a paypal donation button on his homepage to let potential consumers motivate him to continue coding.

I'm not sure how well it's working out (as the drivers are still stagnant) but his reasoning was legitimate; He's working on other projects that generate a profit for his household and driver development would take time away that.

Re:Asking for $$? (2, Insightful)

Eddy Luten (1166889) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011433)

Happens all the time, just browse a bunch of SF.net [sf.net] projects' homepages. Development always has a cost, regardless of the retail price of the product. This also applies to FOSS.

Calculus still applies (1)

CustomDesigned (250089) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011287)

Like with everything else, there is an optimum level of employment that supports open pro bono open source activity. Note that producing open source can itself be a paid job - especially as a freelancer with the right clients. If Stallman had his way, *all* paid programming work would be on GPL software. Two years ago, it looked like my company might go under, and I was doing a lot more pro bono on the side. Now there is tons of work, and it is hard to squeeze in even a simple Fedora packaging project. On the other hand, I wouldn't be contributing much as a homeless person either.

pledge drive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011313)

How about a pledge drive? Let people know what software they use that has its origins in open source. Tell them if they want more to pledge. Some group can do this and distribute it to programmers in need. I bet google would sponsor it for publicity.

We can only expect better OSS in this economy (1)

marketanomaly (1163583) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011369)

The lack of money in the system is driving major corporations to use OSS in order to cut costs. As this trend continues and the tech economy continues to shift more and more towards OSS, many programmers will find that OSS programming becomes their full time job. When OSS is your full time job, maintaining your project becomes mission critical. We can only expect better OSS from the current economic trends.

Utter Nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27011391)

This is utter nonsense. Everyone I work with in the IT industry is swiftly dropping expensive proprietary apps for much cheaper open source alternatives. As a result the amount of time available for engineers to work on open source is increasing not decreasing. This trend will accelerate, the longer the downturn continues, as licensing agreements and support contracts with big vendors expire.

Nonsense (1)

PinchDuck (199974) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011403)

Linus was a student with no corporate sponsorship when he started on the kernel. Hobbyists and uber-coders are driven to do it, and they will.

quite contrary (1)

hany (3601) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011407)

Here in Europe, it is quite usual to receive some financial help while unemployed - a "by product" of various taxes and/or insurances we have to pay.

So, if the developer get unemployed, he can spend that time with such financial support doing what? Yes, making his resume look better by participating on some FOSS development. Or simply enjoying the participation like some kind of vacation.

That of course for all those few days any good developer will stay unemployed. :)

Opposite (1)

olddotter (638430) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011459)

Picking an Open source project to contribute to is on my short list of things to do when/if laid off.

I also plan to work on for profit code (or code I hope will make a profit), but contributing to OSS is something I plan to do with the new found 50 hours a week of free time, should that happen.

Participants, maybe. Not amount. (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 5 years ago | (#27011493)

Certainly some people will cut back on their projects to devote more time to paid work. Others will probably increase their involvement, in an attempt to build or enhance a portfolio of work that could help get or secure a job. In the end, it'll probably be a wash: not much net increase or decrease.

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