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Innovation

Open source resents being a pawn in the game

There's a disconnect for both programmers and community members when they see what they built being treated as a pawn in someone else's game.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

After considerable head-scratching over how upset open source advocates are concerning Oracle-Sun and other deals, our own Paula Rooney (writing at Dan Kusnetzky's fine ZDNet Virtualization blog) gave me the answer.

We don't like being pawns in someone else's game. (Zimbra logo from the blog of New Zealand sysadmin Rawiri Blundell.)

Paula wrote about VMWare's strategy, speculating it may be diluting its core asset by buying Springsource and (now) Zimbra. For its part Zimbra is scrambling, wondering about the fate of its licenses, trying to keep a team together, trying to look on the bright side.

One big reason people get involved in open source projects is a search for autonomy. Strong programming personalities want to control their own fates.

This is partly an entrepreneurial impulse, but only partly. As we've seen with Linus Torvalds and other open source heroes, there's also an artistic integrity side to it. People care about the code.

I can sympathize. As a journalist for 30-odd years I've always been on the look-out for autonomy, for the ability to control my own copy. It's more important to me than the numbers on the paycheck. I have gotten autonomy at ZDNet, in spades, sometimes more than I deserved. I am truly grateful.

In open source, people think of the users as the bosses. Users contribute in many ways -- not just code -- and the more help your community gives the faster you can move.

But Wall Street buyouts never take that into consideration. They're all about the Benjamins.

A project's copyrights, its book of business, and its prospects for making more money are all that count. Investment bankers and CEOs like treating corporations as though they were chess pieces -- most never see (or even think) of the lives inside them.

So there's a disconnect for both programmers and community members when they see what they built being treated as a pawn in someone else's game. Those raised to see open source purely in business terms don't understand that. Some even resent it.

But there it is.

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