I've been thinking recently about the relationship and dynamic between the corporations and "enterprises" which participate in and reap benefits from open source/free software and the quasi-mythic "communities" that are responsible for the creation and maintenance of the software. Additionally this post may be considered part of my ongoing series on cooperative economics.
When people, ranging from business types, to IT professionals, to programmers, and beyond, talk about open source software we talk about a community: often small to medium sized groups of people who all contribute small amounts of time to creating software. And we're not just talking about dinky little scripts that make publishing blogs easier (or some such), we're talking about a massive amount of software: entire operating systems, widely used implementations of nearly all relevant programing languages, and so forth. On some level the core of this question is who are these people, and how do they produce software?
On the surface the answer to these questions is straightforward. The people who work on open source software are professional programmers, students, geeks, and hacker/tinkerer-types who need their computers to do something novel, and then they write software. This works as model for thinking about who participates in open source, if we assume that the reason why people contribute to open source projects is because their individual works/contributions are too small to develop business models around. This might explain some portion of open source contributions, but it feels incomplete to me.
There are a number of software projects that use open source/free software licenses, with accessible source code, supported by "communities," which are nonetheless developed almost entirely by single companies. MySQL, Alfresco, and Resin among others serve as examples these kinds of projects which are open source by many any definitions and yet don't particularly strike me as "community," projects. Is the fact that this software provides source code meaningful or important?
1. If there are companies making money from open source code bases, particularly big companies in a business directly related to software, does this effect participation of people who are not employed by that company in the project?
In my mind I draw distinctions between technology businesses that use/sell/support open source software (e.g. Red-Hat, the late MySQL AB, etc.) and businesses that do something else but use open source software (i.e. everyone with a Linux server in the basement, every business with a website that runs on Apache, etc.)
2. Does corporate personhood extend to the open source community. Are corporate developers contributing as people, or as representatives of their company?
I largely expect that it's the former; however, I'd be interested in learning more about the various factors which affect the way these contributors are perceived?
3. Do people participate in open source because it is fun or for the enjoyment of programming,
4. Has software become so generic that open source is a current evolution of industry standards groups. Do we write open source software for the same reason that industries standardized the size and threading of bolts?
5. Are potential contributors disinclined to contribute to software that is controlled by a single entity, or where projects
6. Is the cost of forking a software project too high to make that a realistic outcome of releasing open source software?
Conversely, were forks ever effective?
7. Do communities actually form around software targeted at "enterprise" users, and if so in what ways are those communities different from the communities that form around niche window p managers or even community projects like Debian?
I don't of course have answers yet, but I think these questions are important, and I'd love to hear if you have any ideas about finding answers to these questions, or additional related questions that I've missed.