Is open source recession proof?

Is open source recession proof?

Summary: So, how might a recession affect open source software?


In the Hardware 2.0 mailbag the other day I received an interesting question concerning open source software and the effect that a recession might have on it.  I've got some thoughts on this myself but I thought that it would be interesting to throw this to you the reader to comment on.

Here's a condensed version of the email I received:

I own and run a small family business and we've given serious thought to switching over from commercial software (Windows, MS Office and so on) to open source software instead (Linux, Open Office and so on).  This switch would represent quite a savings over a five year period.

However, all this talk of recession makes we wonder if this if this isn't the wrong time to be switching.  From what I understand of open source software the majority of the work is done by volunteers, people who get a pay check elsewhere.  If times become harder, won't these people stop giving their time away for free and won't this mean that patches, updates and new versions will dry up?

OK, first off, I want to make it clear that I'm not making any predictions about whether there's a coming recession or not.  I'll leave that to others.  However, the question is itself a valid and interesting one. 

[poll id=255]

So, how might a recession affect open source software?  Well, first off, I think that any business model that relies on volunteers could certainly see interest decline if times get tough.  There are a lot of businesses that rely on people working for them for free because they get a pay check somewhere else, and I think that a recession would make people question working getting any dollars in return.  The flip-side of this though is that being an active part of an open source project is a lot different to spending all day on YouTube or Flickr because some people (remember, the vast majority of the work done on open source projects - even high profile ones - is done by a small number of people) will get something cool to put on their CV. 

Another thing to bear in mind is that many of the big open source projects have core staff that consists of developers.  This means that even if all volunteer help dried up, the project could still live and breathe.  However, smaller projects could still be hit quite hard.

Another area where a recession could harm open source is in hardware support.  Plenty of hardware vendors have expressed a desire to become more open source friendly (specifically, Linux-friendly).  In an industry where profit margins can be tight during good economic times this demonstrates considerable goodwill, but if times get harder then support for Linux could be something that's abandoned.

All that said though, if switching to open source is going to save you money in the now (and I'd urge anyone thinking of making the switch to think this through carefully - being mindful of hidden costs such as training and downtime) then that's a good thing for you. 

I open the floor ...

Topics: Open Source, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Keep in mind that you still have colleges

    and there are people all around the world working on many of the open source projects. If the drive dries up here in the US then there are people in Asia and Europe that can and if needed, pick up a project and move it forward.

    This is the power of Open Source. The only thing that would really harm Open Source (and it would devastate closed source among others) is a total economic crash around the globe. And then it wouldn't matter anyhow because we would be too busy worrying about real problems... such as food, water, medical and someone invading or other more localized conflict.

    Bottom line... I would say Open Source is far more resilient and recession proof than close source because there are just too many people and potential coders to keep it alive since the source is out there. ]:)
    Linux User 147560
    • The 2 Major free Byers Open Office Suite works, Sun and IBM, will they pay

      Wondering if this recession occurs, does the 2 Major free Byers Open Office Suite works, Sun and IBM, will they pay Back Volunteers ?

      I don?t consider safe to switch to Open Source because, beside the Ubundu and Pangolin OS, which are at the stage of development that was Windows 98 in effort work and stability, the Major Softwares working Office Suite is not well supported even after 10 years of availability.

      I remember in the late 2003 having try up the Open Ver. 1.1 of Multi G$ Sun Microsystems company and lately this year the 2.2 version and I didn?t see a major improvement for usual daily works. On the other hand, the Microsoft Office 2003 Suite that I normally use on Windows XP Pro SP2 environment had improved much more within the years up to the actual version 2007. I also work in early 1999 with the IBM Lotus Word Pro Office and I saw the big difference when I bought in 2004 the Microsoft one.

      In my opinion, it risky to switch for Open Office Suite or IBM Lotus Symphony Office Suite either, with or without a recession period and major layoff that comes with it. Still, much more if it is the case, wondering if those Companies will maintain there own efforts and start to sustain fairly there devoted volunteers that had lost there earning job?s.
  • Recession might *benefit* open source development

    Unemployed software developers have a lot of time on their hands, which they can spend on helping with open source development. That's even smart economically, because it increases their job values.

    Drivers: if hardware manufacturers don't want to spend money on making Linux drivers, all they have to do is release the specifications sheets. The open source community will do the rest and make the drivers themselves.

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • Let's not forget about radeonhd

      [pre]Drivers: if hardware manufacturers don't want to spend money on making Linux drivers, all they have to do is release the specifications sheets. The open source community will do the rest and make the drivers themselves.[/pre]
      Case in particular, look what the community, especially through SuSE developers, have pulled from the recently released specs from AMD for their graphics cards since last September (with the xorg-x11-drv-radeonhd drivers). Upcoming this year are the full 3D specs and hopefully some more docs on earlier generations, which might indeed mean a fully working Open Source 3D driver only a year after initial release of specifications... And even might prove to be "future proof" with newer AMD products... This has worked out so well to the extent that there are rumors even tight-lip nVidia might do something like this.
  • Where are all the unemployed developers coming...

    from? Proprietary projects. Proprietary projects stand to be hurt more by a recession than their open source counterparts.

    If you are volunteering your time and then lose a paying job, you just have more time to volunteer.
    • True, though you might get a job supporting and customizing open source.

      If companies are trying to cut back a little, it would only be natural to switch to open source to save money on license costs. But, you would still need support and customization, programmers are not going to lose out in general, only proprietary companies that want to keep raking in the license fees.
    • And I suppose that your banker will put your morgage on hold?

      > you just have more time to volunteer.

      I suppose that someone else is paying your bills? dot bomb still being fresh in my memory I can tell you that hacking on Linux was not my first priority when my employer laid off half of their engineers. When recession hits and the job market starts to tighten up most people with half of a brain are going to focus on finding work and not playing at home with their toys.
      • I second that

        Having been made redundant my only focus is on finding a new job so that my family and I can continue to make ends meet.

        Also my wife would probably give me a fair bit of grief about spending job hunting time fooling around with code :)
        • I was laid off and found time to do both.

          I was laid off in early December of 2007. My method of madness was three in total. In the mornings I would research about 10 different IT websites. Towards noon, I would call the companies with whom I submitted my resumes, (ensuring that they recieved them) this made me touch base with them and move my resume up to a hirer priority. After noon, I would take calls, and work on homework for school, and in the evening I would work on code. They all three actually factor in. The school helps to learn code, and coding helps to improve skill sets, allowing me to be more marketable to employers. I am proud to say after the holidays it took me about 2 weeks to get a good IT position. Unfortunately there are times of the year that employers just do not hire. Lets look at the big ones. December most of the month is a hiring freeze. Spring Break (recruiters are everywhere looking for college grads), fourth of July and a week leading up to it. These are really the problem months to land a position. However, if you can move past these, you should come out more educated, the open source community has benefitted and you have landed a new career with added experience.
      • True, but you may find some on the golf...


        If you are a programmer, you may find volunteering for some projects to help hone your skills as well as look good on a resume.
      • alternative work, perhaps.

        the developers may work in some unrelated field (like flipping burgers, of all horrors/lows to hit...) and then to keep their skills current, work on open sourced stuff... they keep the coding skills, while looking for related work, but they're still doing something to pay the bills (if they can)
      • Were you doing FOSS before you were laid off?

        If you weren't working on FOSS projects before you were laid off, I don't see that
        your opinion counts - if you're not working on hobbies outside work, why would
        you suddenly take one up when you're out of work?

        Everyone I know shares the opinion that finding work is harder work than being in
        a job in the first place.

        In fact, I retrained for light earth moving as a result of one stint of unemployment -
        this was a 8-4 course, 5 days a week for four weeks. During that time I still kept
        house, socialised and worked on my hobbies. My daily routine was not overly
        disturbed, and continuing to work on my hobbies kept me sane.

        Having something productive to do when out of work makes it easier to keep your
        sanity (and save you slipping into depression). So I think FOSS will be great for the
        people already involved in it before they lose their jobs.
  • A recession will mean more money for open source, not less.

    If you are short on money, and you had a project that you needed to get done, this would be the time to use MySQL or PostgreSQL instead of paying big bucks for Oracle or DB2. Also a good time to switch to OpenOffice and forget the MS Office upgrades.

    It is during the booms that people might not be so sensitive about license costs.
    • Re: A recession will mean more money for open source, not less.

      [i]It is during the booms that people might not be so sensitive about license costs.[/i]

      Perhaps, but when they're tightening their belts it won't be a good time for a costly migration. The boom times are when you prepare for the next downturn. If there is a recession, and it proves to be a good thing for open source, don't look for any effect until the economy improves. Look for migrations in boom times.

      none none
      • On new projects, using MySQL instead of Oracle really is not any extra work

        Sure, nobody will start a costly migration during a down time, especially if the licenses are already paid, there would be no big reason. But, some migrations are not that big of a deal, and license savings can pay for the cost of migration, and then some. Especially if there are recurring costs like with Microsoft's software "assurance".
  • international exposure

    Open source isn't dependent on the US economy. If development isn't taking place here then it will progress elsewhere. The results quickly diffuse across the world wide web anyway, and we benefit from the fact that so much information gets translated into English even though it may have been accumulated in another language.
  • Recession irrelevant to OS

    Interesting question. There are VASTLY more developers (many of them gifted enthusiasts who actually earn their money from non-computing jobs) working on open source than proprietary software, and that will always provide a buffer against OS as a whole being affected by anything - including a recession.

    OS is powered by enthusiasts who will continue their work out of love for OS, and they will do it regardless of whether they have a job or not.

    Commercial software houses will suffer badly in a recession from zero profitability. Recession-hit businesses will tend to turn to OS as it's very cheap or free, so further boosting OS.
    Don Collins
  • a recession will help OSS

    Here are the reasons why a recessionis is good for OSS:
    1. Save lots of money when the buget is tight
    2. More unemployment means more time to spend on OSS
    3. Less money for proprietary software R&D
    Linux Geek
    • Naive

      > 2. More unemployment means more time to spend on OSS

      Not unless these people are 30 something rejects still living in their parent's basement. Most people have bills that don't go away just because junior hacker decides that it is more fun to stay home and play.
      • I don't get it

        Are you suggesting that rather than volunteering for OSS is better to be some hamburger flipper?
        Linux Geek