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An Interview with Tim O'Reilly & Eric Raymond
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Sims: If I can change tracks just a moment here, we've been talking about the motivation of open source, and how the methodology works, and part of the methodology of that -- even Microsoft identified this a couple years back in its "Halloween Documents" -- was the fact that they weren't just, coders weren't just in it for the profit. They were in it for a couple things. Some of them wanted to make the software better. Some of them wanted the recognition, and what that actually might lead to down the road. But I wonder, especially in light of the aftermath of V.A. Linux's IPO, I wonder how wealthy coders, wealthy open source coders, can change that equation. I mean does that change the equation in anybody's view of how open source methodology works or does it have no impact? Does it actually free people up to explore new technical challenges?

"I don't think all this money coming in is going to make a major difference to the development model or the dynamics of the community." -- Eric Raymond

Raymond: Well, your listeners deserve to know that I'm on the board of directors of V.A. Linux, and in theory I made a lot of money from that IPO, so they should listen to what I say knowing that and taking it into account however they like. My personal view is that I don't think all this money coming in is going to make a major difference to the development model or the dynamics of the community. And the reason I'm confident about that is because demand for programmers has been intense for a very long time, for over a decade. I think that all the people who could be seriously distracted by money are already gone.



O'Reilly: I have to disagree a little bit, Eric. One of the things that I certainly see is that it's certainly true on the individual programmer level, but if you look at projects as competing for mind share, there's definitely an issue whereas these big companies need to maintain their market cap and maintain their momentum, I think there's going to be a little bit more dog-eat-dog in the open source corporate space than we've seen. And that's going to lead to some bad blood.

Raymond: Well, you might be right but I'm not sure that that's relevant to the question he asked which is "Do we expect this money to change the behavior of developers?"

O'Reilly: Well I think it does if, for example, you're working for a large open source company and that company says, "We're going to do this project because we're basically trying to out-do the other large open source company or out-do this startup that might be threatening our future revenue stream, so we're going to basically rip them off." You know, you've got companies that are effectively redirecting the efforts of those people who still think of themselves as open source programmers but are really now actually working on strategic corporate directives which may not be motivated by the same kinds of open source behavior.

Raymond: Well, you may be right. On the other hand, when I look at open source projects that have been sponsored by these newly successfully large companies, it looks to me like the developers are more wedded to their projects than they are to their employers. There are a couple of cases in which, when key developers have moved to another company, they've actually taken their projects with them.

O'Reilly: Yeah, I agree in the sort of part where the projects themselves are open source, but when you look at how various Linux companies are hoping to make their revenue, they are definitely looking to steal the wind out of the sails of other open source companies, and there's definitely some behavior that I'm starting to see that I think is going to give the open source community a bad name. I'm not going to mention any names, but ...

Sims: Companies aggressively seeking open source development, people seeking open source technologies ...

O'Reilly: No, just where they're basically, they see somebody developing something interesting and they say, "Oh, we need to do that because if that's going to be a good revenue stream, we better have that before the other guy does," and you know it's becoming more competitive and more dog-eat-dog underneath the rhetoric of "We're all idealistic and sharing."

Raymond: Well, Tim, when I see evidence of that happening, I'll probably issue some kind of broadside about it, but I haven't seen it yet.

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