Developing FLOSS

I like to talk about how FLOSS projects can or should develop. The first thing is to accept some facts:

  • There is a competition in public attention of projects
  • There is competition between developers (everybody like to present himself in a nice light)
  • There is competition between companies (that is “the Novell people”, the “Red Hat people” , the “Canonical people”)

My impression is that in FLOSS we have a taboo not to talk about this competition. And so it is here and also there is commercial interest of some people but also comercialism or capitalism has a bad smell – and so everybody has perfume ! 😉 So many projects actually smell good but they are not what they are smelling like. I do not mean to say that those projects are BAD – but that the reception and the discussions are dishonest. FLOSS companies like to have a free hand of volunteers – the game is played like this that everybody has a chance to present himself, make himself useful – and may be has the chance to get payed for that work or similar (like from Google, Red Hat, Novell, Canonical)

We all do some calculations: What are we getting and what are we giving away? The nice thing in Linux is: If I help a Linux company to get better i actually get a better Linux for free – so I do not count what I am getting financially. It is more a sense of giving and taking is one – community. I have always been sceptical against absolute non-commercialism. Because everybody needs to make money. And I don’t think in a society where you ahve to have money you can expect people to not think in money terms.

So what is the right approach? Lately Fluendo had decided to sell proprietary codecs for gstreamer.
This has led to some criticism. I think this is not a smart move. it does solve some problems, though. As in fact many Linux users want to view something like MPEG4 or MP3 and the legal situation today is unclear concerning the free software codecs, which might be free in the sense of GPL but as they might touch patent issues it might be illegal to use them. I can accept the argument, that these issues need to be solved. Buit i think, again, we see different movements moving away from each other:

  • Creative Commons provides non-free coded media and works with non-free software
  • Fluendo supports non-free coded media and also supports not freely licensed content
  • Anti-Software patent groups are not supporting free software, because they fear they loose popularity with companies that actually prefer proprietary software

So this means that the free software movement, thee free culture movement and the anti patent movement partly work against each other. Each at the cost of the other. The same is true for other groups like KDE/GNOME (KDE not using Gstreamer for instance). Or Novells and Red Hats 3D desktop game. In the end this means that we all do much redundant work. I think marketing – and by that I talk about it in a broader sense – should be done efficiently and more cooperatively.

For instance if you have a project like Jokosher and a distribution like Foresight Linux it is a good way if both do cooperate: Jokosher wants to be on many different platforms and Foresight likes to have attractive and exciting software. OTOH Ubuntu also does have Jokosher. It is in the interest of users if bugs that come up are solved and that new features are deployed widely. So it should be like this: If there is a new release of an exciting software distributions should compete in importing this into their trees and get some decent testing. The competition will make things happen sooner for the users. It should not be like this that one distro is hiding information – sharing information is something that should go both ways. The competition must be in the real work and in the organisation and kind of communication that is done. This is similar to science, where new knowledge is share, although some work is primarily done inside a lab.

One essential is to make things transparent:

  • Make as much visible as it makes sense
  • Allow as much contribution as possible
  • Don’t exclude people that could contribute

Be aware that today, as a working day is packed full of information and jobs to be done you miht only have once chance to win the interest of a guest of your website. She might be eager to contribute content, give some information – and if she can’t she will doing something else. Also sometimes people are looking for information – and if they do not find it they loose interest. These ‘interest economics’ are essential for our todays world. And another way to deal with that is to cooperate between projects – so that an input in one project can benefit the other. For me THIS is the real best argument for FLOSS projects: All are used to cooperate above space and time and culture. You can really build exciting software within hours, given you have the right people in the right place. This could never be done in proprietary software – and this is in fact why they are loosing ground in the future.

But what should a project do that wants to survive – or has a company with employees that want their money each month? I think staying focused is another essential: Define or find out what your customers or your users are looking for and than strive to put this together in a ‘product’. Jono Bacons talk at linuxonf shows very well what can be accomplished if you stay focused. Most importantly the users or customer must be able to see results or at least a vision. Without at least a vision no one will contribute or join and without a working product nobody will use, even if some ideas might sound interesting. This isn’t enough!

It is also important to get some dynamic and to appeal to people. Do I mean that everything should be dramtised? No! I am not talking about commercial advertiosements. Although they do speak to a part of the humans nature. just because TV commercial are so ugly and pure capitalism is also it does not mean that we need to present products I a boring fashion. Show that your product works and does its job – also make clear where it fails – or even direct users to competitive products if you think they need another solution! You should server their interest – not your own. You have your own interest (as developer or company) but you should just do a good work and be trustworthy. If you loose the confidence of your users – you lost! Nothing is more worse than loosing trust. You will never get it back! Or this will cost you years. Often companies that are not very self confident in their products do not trust contributors and their users – and as a reflection loose the trust of the very. So they loose what they need. Trust means exchange – and some exchange may come as monetary element. A society is today – this is what is also very important. Economics means that as we give – we have to get back MORE. But it should not work like that you ENSURE you are getting MORE. You must ensure that what you give is of such a value that what you are getting BACK is enough to make a living.

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