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Software The Almighty Buck

Without Jobs, Will Open Source Suffer? 275

Posted by kdawson
from the worth-asking dept.
darthcamaro writes in with an interview with Markus Rex, Novell's top Linux exec and the former CTO of the Linux Foundation. While some open source vendors see the current economy as a boon to open source, the interview concludes with Rex's speculation on the contrary possibility. "The other thing is in both Europe and the US the rise of the unemployment rate is something that is rather unprecedented... The open source community to a certain degree is dependent on the willingness of people to contribute. We see no indication that anything might change there, but who knows? People need something to live off." Have you thought about scaling back open source work as the economy continues to contract?
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Without Jobs, Will Open Source Suffer?

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  • Not Steve (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mr Z (6791) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:37AM (#27010745) Homepage Journal
    Heh... was I the only one who misread this as something to do with Steve Jobs? (And subsequently went "Murrrrrh?")
  • Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dun Malg (230075) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:39AM (#27010763) Homepage

    People need something to live off

    This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geminidomino (614729) * on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:43AM (#27010809) Journal

      This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

      No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

      • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:53AM (#27010897) Journal

        Except that contributions to open source projects are both good resume-fodder and a good way to get noticed by potential employers.

        I know a job search is hard work, but I'm not sure it's going to take as much time as a fulltime job... meaning that much more time to play with Xorg, or whatever else.

        • "Except that contributions to open source projects are both good resume-fodder and a good way to get noticed by potential employers."

          And how many contributors have actually gotten jobs in this recession and subsequent layoffs? Remember we're really just getting started with this downturn. The story's basically asking what if it continues on much longer? Not saying, "well in the past..."

          • by qbzzt (11136)

            And how many contributors have actually gotten jobs in this recession and subsequent layoffs?

            Probably very few. But it's still a better bet than if you don't have anything to show.

        • If you aren't pounding the pavement and making the search for the job a full-time job...you're doing it wrong.

        • Re:Ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Kjella (173770) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:06AM (#27012661) Homepage

          I know a job search is hard work, but I'm not sure it's going to take as much time as a fulltime job

          If times are tough, you've been through all the job boards and applied for anything relevant, shaked down all your friends and contacts asking if they know of any job offers, gone to every interview you've been invited to then yes. Keeping up with the daily new offers isn't really that much work, it's not a day's worth of work. "Hitting the pavement" is only good if you want to get a job as burger flipper or shop assistant, anything more serious than and you'll find the application on the web boards. If you got commitments (wife and kids, family, friends, wife's job, home with mortgage) then you can't just go across the country for whatever job might be there.

          Also, employers don't want employees way outside their current skillset and normal pay grade. They know as well as you know that this is a stopgap because times are rough and come better times you'll be off to a more relevant position, most likely at another company. The more desperate you get, the less any employer is likely to hire you on those far-out applications. Of course you shouldn't just hit the couch but sometimes just waiting a little bit for reasonable jobs to show up is the right answer. Of course that all depends on what situation you're in, if you don't have a nest egg and need that job NOW, well you do what you gotta do. Even under current circumstances people aren't that desperate though.

      • by Kozz (7764) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:10AM (#27011053)

        No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

        I'll have you know that the behavior of Xorg's gonkulator is functioning exactly as intended. Marking this entry as RESOLVED: WONTFIX.

      • Or even writing apps they might be able to make some money off of such as various mobile phone apps which are still reasonably done by a single person, some sort of web service, etc. Something that could get the attention of a potential employer and myabe bring in a little bit of much needed income if they're good and/or lucky.

      • On the other hand, I have a project which I intend to open source, and I almost wish I would be fired (with a severance package, naturally) so I would have ample time to work on it.
      • Re:Ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dun Malg (230075) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:54AM (#27011567) Homepage

        No, but they might say "Gee, I would normally write a patch to fix Xorg's gonkulator, but dammit, I have to go search for a job instead."

        That's the same crap argument that always gets thrown out. Searching for a job isn't something you can reasonably do 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. It takes no appreciably greater amount of the day to look for work than it does to go to work. After you've gone to 3 interviews and sent of 20 more resumes, what are you going to do after 6pm, when most offices are closed? Sit at home for 3 hours and obsessively tune your resume? After every day? Un-fucking-likely.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by farrellj (563) *

        Until recently, open source software was developed by people FOR THE LOVE OF IT!!!

        That you get paid was a bonus! Most open source software still is written by people who like to write software, and more often than not, to fill a need that person had. Linux is such a piece of software. Although I don't know Linus personally, I am pretty sure that if there was suddenly no need for Linux, chances are, he would stop developing it. Sure, he might continue to do it for money...but with his programming and managem

    • People need something to live off

      This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

      I know you're right, but could you explain the economic reality in a bit more detail, for the uninitiated like myself who are as knowledgeable? Thanks.

      • I meant "not as knowledgeable".
      • People need something to live off

        This is utterly ridiculous. It's not like work on an open source project is comparable to giving away money, or hand-built widgets. Nobody is going to say "gee, I would normally contribute this code to that open source project, but I'm unemployed, so I'll sell it to buy groceries instead."

        I know you're right, but could you explain the economic reality in a bit more detail, for the uninitiated like myself who are as knowledgeable? Thanks.

        The reality is that only a very small percentage of open source programmers actually *live* off of open source programming. The overwhelming majority of contributors to OSS projects are employed doing other things (usually but not always computer related), and simply code for the fun of it. Being unemployed will have minimal effect on these contributors (unless their financial situation reaches a point where they can't afford an internet connection any more, that is). "Looking for a job" is *not* an 8 ho

    • This is utterly ridiculous.

      It is not. In fact, open source software is only possible in a state of welfare, and a luxury others can't afford. There is a scale, with on one hand a poor, jobless programmer in a 3rd world country, his main worry how to feed his children each day, and he will not be thinking a microsecond about the next release of Gnome. Cynically, all those guys battling it out over how freedom is defined in software usually will not be thinking about what is really much more important if a better planet is what you are

    • by jd (1658)

      You're absolutely right. On the other hand, people might very well say "a break in my resume will look very bad when it comes to getting a new job, I'll spend my time on open source rather than watch TV".

  • by NReitzel (77941) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:41AM (#27010777) Homepage

    Were I unemployed, I would still contribute to open source projects. The only thing I think would be worse than being jobless and broke would be being bored, jobless, and broke.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Main MAn (162800)

      What you mean bored? Go watch some TV. If nothing else there is always some infomercials going on!

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Were I unemployed, I would still contribute to open source projects. The only thing I think would be worse than being jobless and broke would be being bored, jobless, and broke.

      Idk about you, but if I were unemployed - I'd try to work. Now, it depends how much cushion money I have. If I could live of my saving for a year, I'd probably contribute to a OS project hoping to get noticed. If I didn't. Well, I'd probably forget about programming pet projects for a while and get any job I can in any industry,

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:41AM (#27010787) Homepage

    If all those programmers that are unemployed want to keep their skills sharp they better find a project or two to join and keep on coding.

    Honestly sitting on the couch for 3 months eating cheetos and playing the Xbox does not make you a useful coder when you finally get another gig. Laid off? go to sourceforge and find something you would like to contribute to, contact the team, and get cracking. Keeps you sharp and you will get spoiled by the no deadline freedom.

  • Without Jobs, Will Open Source Suffer?

    Even with him around, they barely contributed to the Mach kernel.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:53AM (#27010901) Journal
    Stories like these seem to assume two rather dubious things: (1) that programmers always have a choice between work-for-nothing and work-for-something and (2) that all OSS is produced by volunteers for no money.

    The second, we know is partially true, if altruism didn't exist OSS wouldn't work nearly as well; but definitely not wholly true, anybody can rattle off the list of big serious commercial players paying people to build OSS.

    The first, though, seems a really weird assumption to make when talking about OMG Depression! conditions. For anybody who primarily works for a living(as opposed to primarily owning or investing) the more or less defining characteristic of bad economic times is low prices or no buyers for your labor. It isn't: "Well, times are hard, so I'm going to start selling the labor I used to give away.", it is "Times are hard, people aren't interested in buying the labor I want to sell."

    There will probably be some cases where people who used to work relatively short hours at high wages will now work longer hours at lower wages, thus decreasing their OSS contribution; but I strongly suspect that, for most programmers(and people generally) the whole point of "depression" is that you can't just go and sell the labor you used to give away. If things get really dreadful, fall of the USSR style dreadful, we'll probably see less OSS and more subsistence farming and wood chopping; but garden variety economic slowdown would seem to have the opposite effect.
  • By driving the cost of software to zero, OSS developers have made it difficult for many people to act creatively due to the high cost of development. While OSS developers may make some money developing an open source software package, they have essentially forever undercut anyone who might have also developed something similar. This isn't to say that closed source products are somehow more encouraging of competition, but simply that OSS stakes out the monopoly position as its first step (by pricing everythi

    • by Skuto (171945)

      >By driving the cost of software to zero, OSS
      >developers have made it difficult for many people
      >to act creatively due to the high cost of
      >development. While OSS developers may make some
      >money developing an open source software package,
      >they have essentially forever undercut anyone who
      >might have also developed something similar.
      >
      >This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally
      >of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to
      >closed source competition.

      There's at least 2 fal

      • by tkinnun0 (756022)

        1) If the OSS software is truly worse, either the system using it will be worse, or someone needs to do the work for fix it up or hammer it into shape -> jobs.

        This is the broken windows fallacy rephrased: it's good to build a house with broken windows, because fixing windows creates jobs.

    • by pla (258480) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:54AM (#27011565) Journal
      This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to closed source competition.

      Did you mean that as a troll, or do you sincerely believe that?

      Let's move past the "Windows vs Linux" argument first of all, as they each appeal to different types of people, and both have merits and downsides.

      First, at the ultra-low-end, where you have Joe Sixpack dependant on one-click do-everything apps, I will agree that closed source has the edge, and for an obvious (IMO) reason - The same people interested in FOSS tend to want more control than such software provides.

      At the ultra-techie end, you pretty much have your choices dictated by platform. For serious Windows development, you use Visual Studio (and I write that as someone who does prefer MinGW to Visual Studio, but I won't play dumb); For web development, Adobe has pretty much a hard monopoly (and again, I say that as someone who will not use Adobe dev tools). For the unixy and embedded markets, you either have FOSS or WindRiver (and in that case, FOSS has such a huge edge that WindRiver gave up on their own garbage and now just repackages FOSS tools).

      So, let's consider the middle-to-advanced users, those who know they have a choice, but don't necessarily care about ideology, just results. I would of course point out FireFox and ThunderBird as crown jewels of open source; For DRM-unencumbered media players, you only have Open Source choices; For rippers (that don't impose their own DRM), again, pretty much all open source with the notable exception of SlySoft (which only has an edge at the moment because they beat us to the punch on BluRay ripping). For image editing, GIMP has a complicated interface with a steep learning curve - But so does Photoshop. For DAW, I honestly know more engineers using Audacity than Sonar/DP/GB/etc, with the exception that if you need custom hardware or realtime support, you don't have many choices there. For those who know the difference between word processing and text editing, the FOSS Notepad++ has pretty much crushed the competition for the text editor crown. For secure terminal sessions and most tunneling, everyone (in the Windows world) uses PuTTY; For (non-one-click) video format conversion, VirtualDub counts as pretty much the only choice...


      So... I don't know that I'd call FOSS better than commercial apps, but in some cases yes, and in most cases comparable.
    • You miss the point OSS software competes with the mass market software industry, it does not compete with the speciality software market, where you buy a "system" or "solution" that provides the hardware, installation, support, maintenance, and the software, in fact this is where OSS is most used as a base to add the speciality system on top of ...

      OSS is not "generally poor or quality" the equivalent products are generally of much the same quality, you do not compare a small OSS Project with Office, the sam

      • Ubuntu is not Utilitarian! It can be as colourful and creative as OSX... if not more so ...

        Yet they chose shades of broooown . Go figure.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      By driving the cost of software to zero, OSS developers have made it difficult for many people to act creatively due to the high cost of development.

      It depends on the target market. By providing zero-cost tools and libraries, OSS developers have made it easier for me to act creatively in providing custom software solutions to my customers.

      The whole point of OSS is to eliminate vendor lock-in and pointless duplication of effort. It would be difficult to compete with Apache or gcc or Mozilla, yea verily. B

    • This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to closed source competition.

      While you're trolling, here's some fodder:

      • Commercial version of faxing system that is more reliable than Hylafax [hylafax.org] please?
      • Commercial web server that's more reliable than Apache [apache.org] please?
      • Commercial E-mail software more reliable than Thunderbird or even Mutt?
      • Commercial software that can compete with Python or PERL in their markets?

      Yeah, NASA standardized on Python because it sucks, that m

    • by melikamp (631205)

      This, I think, is the reason why OSS is generally of poor quality (generally speaking) compared to closed source competition. Whereas OSS is driven by addressing specific needs, closed source must compete on its merits and advantages. This leads to very utilitarian software for OSS (Ubuntu) and much more colorful and creative software for closed source (Apple's OSX).

      I respectfully disagree. I am not sure how exactly you compare Ubuntu to OS X, but in my book Ubuntu is more stable, more responsive, supports more hardware, has more software (that I actually want to use for my work), and if you want to talk bells and whistles, Ubuntu + Compiz totally dwarfs MS's and Apples puny attempts at desktop eye candy.

      You see, Ubuntu is like a common weasel, because it is graceful and kind of brownish, where as OS X is more like platypus, something god threw together right after h

  • by internerdj (1319281) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:54AM (#27010919)
    FOSS sounds like a great way to keep my skills relevant and honed. It will also help fill in those blank time periods which employers hate. I see you haven't been employed for the last six months. Oh well, I've been searching for a job and working for (this particular) project. Check out some of my work if you'd like, here is the URL...
  • Opposite effect? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:55AM (#27010925)

    I would think that sacked software engineers would actually be more likely to start contributing to OSS ...

    • to build a portfolio
    • to keep their skills sharp
    • because they have the free time and it's enjoyable and/or civilly virtuous

    [I can't RTFA because of content filtering where I'm at right now. So I'm guessing about its contents.]

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:56AM (#27010945) Journal
    Every time I've been between jobs, I didn't sit around drinking 40s, eating doritos, and watching tv -- I worked on my own projects (websites and software) and some open source software. But when I spend all day working then come home and deal with dinner, running errands, other life stuf... that doesn't leave much time for working on open source software.
    • by pavon (30274)

      Also, when I write software for a living, I like spending the free time I have on other hobbies that I don't get to do at work. If I was jobless, I would likely have more interest in writing software at home than I do now.

  • by curmudgeon99 (1040054) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:02AM (#27010997)
    Speaking as a developer who uses lots of FOSS, I think as long as there are jobs there will be a demand for open-source software. I would be worried if I worked for IBM or BEA or any of the other vendors who sell expensive stuff. My company believes in open source and when we propose to use that sort of technology, our business customers don't bat an eye.
  • I think open source will benefit. There will be a certain number of people who are laid off that it will be extremely difficult to find a similar job. I'm thinking of people in industries and service sector jobs that were contracting before the downturn and have become much worse (the printing industry is one in particular I'm very familiar with).

    These individuals will need to "reinvent" themselves to an extent. Getting involved in an open source project will give them some experience in a new field. In add

  • Get a MacArthur Genius Grant, and get paid to speak. Then you can do whatever you want in the rest of the time. After all, he's making a living without getting paid for writing code. It's good enough for him, it should be good enough for you.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:16AM (#27011099) Homepage

    If I'm looking at fairly equally qualified candidates and one of them spent their off time contributing to an open source project, I would tend to see that as a very big point in their favor. To me that says they really enjoy what they do and have concerns that go beyond the bottom line. And that they care enough about their skills to keep them sharp while they were off.

    Community service always looks good, even if that community is virtual. And that can make those of you coming out of college stand out from your peers. An open source project can give you very marketable experience.

  • by s31523 (926314) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:17AM (#27011105)
    Engineer A who was laid off and did nothing for 3 months except take his unemployment check..

    OR

    Engineer B who was laid off and did some work on an open source project where he/she learned some new things and kept their skills sharp?

    I think the exact opposite would occur, No jobs equals more people who now have the time to jump in.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      Some people who are being paid to work on Free Software (there are probably a lot more of them then you realize) will be laid off, balancing some unemployed who will get involved with Free Software projects to fill their time and keep up their skills. There could be a net loss, but I doubt it. Free Software vendors will continue to do well and more companies will see the value of both using and contributing.

  • Like with everything else, there is an optimum level of employment that supports open pro bono open source activity. Note that producing open source can itself be a paid job - especially as a freelancer with the right clients. If Stallman had his way, *all* paid programming work would be on GPL software. Two years ago, it looked like my company might go under, and I was doing a lot more pro bono on the side. Now there is tons of work, and it is hard to squeeze in even a simple Fedora packaging project.

  • Linus was a student with no corporate sponsorship when he started on the kernel. Hobbyists and uber-coders are driven to do it, and they will.

    • Linus didn't need corporate sponsorship because his country has a real safety net. For those of us who live in the US, it's a different story.

  • Here in Europe, it is quite usual to receive some financial help while unemployed - a "by product" of various taxes and/or insurances we have to pay.

    So, if the developer get unemployed, he can spend that time with such financial support doing what? Yes, making his resume look better by participating on some FOSS development. Or simply enjoying the participation like some kind of vacation.

    That of course for all those few days any good developer will stay unemployed. :)

  • Picking an Open source project to contribute to is on my short list of things to do when/if laid off.

    I also plan to work on for profit code (or code I hope will make a profit), but contributing to OSS is something I plan to do with the new found 50 hours a week of free time, should that happen.

  • Certainly some people will cut back on their projects to devote more time to paid work. Others will probably increase their involvement, in an attempt to build or enhance a portfolio of work that could help get or secure a job. In the end, it'll probably be a wash: not much net increase or decrease.

  • I don't get paid for any open source work I do.

    If I find myself without a job, I oftentimes find myself more driven to work on open source things and personal projects, rather than coming home from work and vegging out with wikipedia all night.

    I like having the income a job provides, but by the same token, I also like having the energy and drive that a job takes out of me.

  • I see the current economic correction as a challenge, for sure, but (minus stupid government attempts to "fix" it) also a great opportunity. Any business that wishes to survive must become more competitive, and must learn to do more with less. Free Software is one of the tools that will help many of them to do so.

    I expect to be laid off soon by the financial services megacorp I work for. The moment that happens, Free / Open Source Software will benefit in two ways. First, I will have vastly more time t

  • Certainly those software developers who still have jobs will likely spend less time on open-source projects, they'll be spending more of their time picking up the load as their employers lay other developers off and try to get more work from fewer people. But developers who're out of work will have more time to work on their own projects, even allowing for time spent hunting for work. And open-source projects make for good resume fodder: things to fill out a resume and provide code they can show to prospect

  • First: I probably only spend about 100 to 150 hours a year working on open source projects.

    That said, open source is a key resource in my business. I live in a remote area in the mountains of Arizona so I mostly work remotely from home. This means that I compete with friends and colleagues in Russia, Vietnam, Brazil, and India whose cost of living is a lot less than in the USA.

    One way I compete is by very aggressively using open source projects and building on them for consulting jobs. Customers, especially

  • Likely, some of those who have lost their jobs will moan that they don't have time to work on open-source projects; they'll move into their parents' basements, read job postings on Craigslist and send off a few dozen resumes each day, then spend the rest of their time playing World of Warcraft.

    These people are losers. They weren't going to work on open-source projects anyway, so a recession and layoff doesn't make a bit of difference to their usefulness to the world. It just gives them more time for World

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday February 27, 2009 @10:49AM (#27012399)

    I read it on Slashdot [slashdot.org].

  • February 2009 - Present: Unemployed
    vs
    February 2009 - Present: Full-time contributor to [insert your itch here]

  • Right after the dot bomb bust, many of the open source project I was following gained a lot of momentum. All those techies out of work, what're they going to do, sit around and not use their computer?

  • people who are actively involved in open source projects are ones who can show many strong portfolio items whichever job they apply. they would probably get preference because of solid examples of prior work, and in some cases, name recognition. i dont think they will be out of job for too long. lower wages maybe, but dont think so.

    AND in any case, there is elance etc, where they can do freelancing easily, with the help of same strong resume.

  • Open source software will not suffer as a result of economic downturn because many of the applications out there are also hobbies and labours of love. In fact, in these economic times, quite the reverse. I would expect open source to thrive and flourish because businesses will be looking for less expensive, more attractive alternatives. Plus, open source development is a way of keeping programming skills fresh and gives the out of work software engineer a chance to hone their skills and practice writing
  • With the economy in the shitter it's unlikely that the job search will consume all that much time until things turn around. Assuming expenses can be cut to the point where unemployment can cover everything, sending out the requisite couple of resumes a week would leave plenty of free time for coding.
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:51AM (#27013301)

    I'm a software developer. I've had a few periods where I was unemployed. I think that is when I wrote the most open source software. I had time. What else does a software guy do when he has plenty of spare time?

That does not compute.

Working...