Apple Trees and Open Source

Apple Trees and Open Source

The Context

After so many years of Open Source Software. Companies big and small have become complacent about the meaning of Open Source. Forgetting at times that most Open Source Repositories are maintained by volunteers, who give freely of their time and skills to share with others a useful tool or algorithm.

The Story

To remind ourselves how to treat Open Source Software and their contributors, let's have a short story time.

Imagine a woman wants to bake an apple pie. She goes and plants an apple tree. She nurtures and cares for it, grafts in a branch of her favorite apple flavor and creates a new hybrid apple, just for her apple pie. When the long awaited and hard-toiled first apples are ripe and ready for harvesting, she realizes that an apple tree makes a lot more apples than needed for an apple pie. Biting into the first apple fills her mouth with delectable flavor. This is the best apple she ever had. Instead of wasting them, she wants to share the remaining apples with the world and puts them by the street with a sign saying 'free'.

DALL·E 2022-10-11 22.46.46 - A painting by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin featuring a chair on top of which is a crate of apples with a sign saying free next to a road.png

AI generated image of a free apple by the road

The Good

When Open Source started, a lot of Apples were given out for free. I remember a time when I needed a 'Clock Widget' for my MySpace page and you could simply go and 'spyder' (yup, I didn't misspell Google) for open html widget code.

These days Open Source let's you quickly build, prototype and even go to production with code freely provided on the global street. Some of them recognize that their labor of love could be a source of income and they put out a collection box, hoping for a sponsor to come along.

The Bad

Donation boxes are often treated, like we treat Microtransactions in Videogames. "We never used to have to pay for different skins, they just came with the game. All of a sudden we gotta pay for that cool armor?!"

Screen Shot 2022-10-10 at 9.39.15 PM.png

Just a small subset of outfits that came free with the game (TES: Oblivion, Bethesda)

For so many years, Open Source was free (as in free of expectations) that paying now, probably feels a bit like playing a free mobile game.

But it goes the other way too. Each Open Source contributor will tell you they have had people coming into the community, with just one goal. Free Labor.

This is where the Story with the tree comes in handy. You don't pickup free apples by the road, taste them and walk up to the owner of the apple tree and ask them to make you a new flavor or bake you an apple pie. Because in that situation it's pretty clear what the relationship between the apple given for free and the owner is. Once it's out there, its up to the person picking the apple up to figure out whether this will make good apple pie or not.

The Ugly

The worst case of 'abuse' is when a commercial company picks up a free open source solution and uses it to increase it's profits substantially without giving back. That's kind of like picking up a crate full of free apples and selling it on the market for profit. (Glancing right past the donation box next to the sign 'Free')

Companies that follow this kind of conduct don't realize, they are slowly cutting down the apple tree. No wonder that frustrated developers cut down their trees and stop making pies altogether.

DALL·E 2022-10-11 22.48.39 - A painting by Giambettino Cignaroli depicting a software engineer using an abacus.png

Ai generated image of a software engineer using an abacus instead of growing apples

The Big Idea

What if companies realized that if the apples are great for their apple pies maybe a sponsorship may be helping the apple tree to spring into an apple orchard. After all, most software is written by engineers who are passionate about solving problems and a few dollars can go a long way in rewarding the right passion.

Some companies already allocate a budget to support Open Source Dependencies, but many do not. At QXIP we mitigate this by using the "Robin Hood" Model, where the commercial customers sponsor the Open Source products along with their solutions. (Direct sponsorship is of course still possible here)

From a developers standpoint, sponsorships are of course a welcome source of additional income and motivation to spend time outside their day job improving their current software and coming up with new ideas and programs.

From a companies standpoint, donations increase the stability of Open Source Dependencies and changes the relationship to a partnership instead of an opportunity of exploitation.

Let's not forget that another part of donations are not actual dollars, but by opening constructive issues (in lieu of demanding free support and development), giving back by creating Pull Requests to improve the software for everyone and naturally to spend time and resources by raising awareness to software that is great and worth using.

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