Monday, August 26, 2013

Should I donate to open source projects?

I was recently asked by a client who was using open source software whether they should donate to the project or not. For me this was a hard question. My personal desire is to donate, but my experience shows me open source projects generally take the work of others and do not themselves contribute to those who they take from.

For example, I made open source dictionaries available from my site. The work was originally based on the UK dictionary created by others. The direction I received from the open source project was to simply take the work of others that was closest to what I wanted to create. There was really no thought given to assist those whose work I was to use.

The world however has a funny way of paying you back. As I had not considered those I was taking the initial work from, I would soon find others would do the same to me and not give anything back.

I built the Australian dictionary in my own time and provided the dictionary to my clients at not cost to assist them. In hindsight I should have stopped there. Instead I then went on to answer around a thousand emails from open source participants and contributed the work to the project. Over the next three years I found I could count on one hand the number of people who contacted me with a word suggestion. All the work to maintain and enhance the dictionary was through my own efforts consuming hundreds of hours.

Then the Firefox project used my work for the basis of their Australian dictionary making a few changes and adding errors to the dictionary. Less than an hours work. The Google Chrome project likewise came along and took my work and incorporated the work into their project and gave nothing back. My open source work now has millions of users and yet I received almost nothing for my efforts.

So now when people ask should they donate the answer is pretty simple. Most open source projects take the work of others and don't give back so why should you. If the projects don't feel inclined to give back to those they take from and don't feel guilty, then neither should you.

That isn't the way I work. I've donated a small amount to the projects I use because it is part of my nature. But the reality is don't let your conditioning determine what you do. Open source projects take what they want, from whomever they want, to give what they want, and that isn't giving back to those they take from. That is just how open source works. Personally I believe in giving back to those who assist me and that isn't how open source works.

So next time you feel guilty for using the software from open source projects without paying for it, don't feel guilty. That's exactly what they are doing and they don't feel guilty at all, so neither should you.

Kelvin Eldridge
Online Connections
Call 0415 910 703 for computer support.
Servicing Templestowe, Doncaster, Eltham and the surrounding area.

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