Last year, I participated in a Birds of a Feather panel discussion at Devoxx. During this panel discussion, David Blevins explained:

"We have this fairytale idea that open source is an infinite resource, but it's not," Blevins said. An approach that was suggested is for developers to approach their organization's CTO and say to them: "Let's outsource all our software development to people we don't know" and then, when the CTO looks surprised and annoyed at the suggestion, say: "That's what we're doing already, shouldn't we get to know the organizations behind the software we're using?"

Source: Devoxx blog by Geertjan Wielenga

The panel discussion was inspired by the Heartbleed disaster, where the person who introduced the bug accidentally had to defend himself against the allegation that he introduced the bug intenionally. As it turned out, the piece of code that caused the problem was submitted on New Year's Eve. Another problem related to Heartbleed, was that the OpenSSL developers didn't make sufficient money to support their product:

"this team has a reported budget for all of their work of less than a million dollars, and through the course of this week —which you'd think would be a fairly important week for them— they have received $841 of donations. Which is sad. There's a section on the site here that says, if you give more than, I think, it's $20,000, we'll put your logo on our home page. There are no logos. No-one is giving these guys money."

Source: http://www.zdnet.com/article/heartbleed-soul-search-regulation-proposed-for-critical-crypto-code/

Neither did they get sufficient support in general:

Unfortunately, despite very wide distribution and use by millions of users, OpenSSL does not have adequate support. In spite of its many users, there are very few who actively participate in the project.

Source: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts

The OpenSSL had to take all kinds of jobs and the software suffered from their lack of time, leading to... Heartbleed.

The response from the community was strange: large corporations suddenly started giving money (a fraction of the money they made by using OpenSSL), but... what about all the other open source projects they were using? I'm pretty sure there are other projects and developers that experience the same problem the OpenSSL developers had and that deserve financial support, but nobody cares about them.

This brings me to the question: isn't there a risk that every one will end up being an open source user and nobody will continue producing open source of companies do not pay for their use of open source software?

  • What does it even mean for a concept like open source to even be a finite resource?!? Jul 1, 2015 at 7:42
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    @curiousdannii read about the Trageday of the commons. If people start seeing open source as an infinite resource and they start using it without contributing anything back, then the resource will disappear: there will be no more incentive to write open source, so developers will stop writing it. In short: I see a trend where open source is starting to be the victim of its own success. There are less and less projects that are supported by individual developers. Jul 1, 2015 at 7:57
  • Sounds like nonsense to me. Digital information is not a depleteable resource. Jul 1, 2015 at 13:45
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    I think there is a fantastic question here, wrapped up in a problem statement that could use a little more focus. Those last two paragraphs are just question after question, some of which are decidedly too subjective for treatment on Stack Exchange. Clearly many users are not interested in determining which are rhetorical and which are really being asked, based on the close votes; I would recommend some revision to address that issue.
    – Air
    Jul 1, 2015 at 23:28
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    more of the militant downvoting and closing. you are doing this site a disservice with this. moreover @BrunoLowagie having to prove himself on every round - i'm a member of three se sites and contribute heavily and i've been treated the same. these users demand you answer to them, without doing any leg work themselves.
    – albert
    Jul 2, 2015 at 12:36

1 Answer 1


You're not really saying open source is a finite resource (something I wouldn't agree with) but that open source developers are a finite resource. And yes, obviously the community can only do that much. It's pretty obvious that paid developers can do much more than people doing stuff in their spare time. A paid developer can work 8 hours a day, five days a week on a project. An unpaid developer has a few hours a day (if even an hour at all) and cannot find time for the project every day of the week. Besides this being a lot less time, the time is partitioned with other tasks (filling the refrigerator, making meals, calling insurance or mechanics, getting the kid from school, ...) and the focus is a lot worse than in an work environment. So yes, we can't expect volunteers to outdo commercial development in every aspect.

I think there are two possible solutions here:

  1. As you suggest companies should pay more developers to work on open source or even better fund open source.
  2. The communities take tasks they can handle and reduce the workload by concentrating on the important. That includes we shouldn't expect everything from open source software, but only clearly focused core features.

Both points can be combined for better results.

By the way, the dilemma you describe is called the tragedy of the commons. The commons in this case are the developers willing to work in their spare time. Luckily the tragedy of the commons in classic sense does not completely apply, as the developers in question are humans that can decide which tasks to do, and which not.

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    During the panel discussion, we asked the audience for feedback. The American half of the audience said that corporate funding would solve this problem. The European half of the audience said that the Government should pay open source developers; that is: the tax payer as the Europeans saw open source as a public good. I don't like either suggestion. I prefer to let the market decide which projects make money. I don't believe in "charity" from large corporations, nor do I believe that a government can decide which project has value and which hasn't. Jun 30, 2015 at 14:45
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    When you talk about "the communities", how do you see this? I don't think "a community" can create a successful open source project. All the successful projects I know, have a benevolent dictator (or a small committee of dictators). Jun 30, 2015 at 15:11
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    @BrunoLowagie: Or the benevolent dictator. In most OSS I see usually only one permanent contributor so community=benevolent dictator (most OSS is also pretty small, not everything is Linux, Firefox or Typo3).
    – Mnementh
    Jun 30, 2015 at 15:15
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    In my case: I was the unpaid benevolent dictator of iText. Thousands of companies were using iText without paying for it. Then my son got Cancer and the companies using iText didn't support me in my hour of need, on the contrary. iText almost disappeared because of this. Fortunately, things changed when we changed the license and started making revenue. Now there's a whole team of developers who are paid to further develop iText. Jun 30, 2015 at 15:34
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    That's the core of my question: aren't companies incredibly stupid if they choose to use open source software without paying the developers and maintainers of that software? They are investing in open source by using it. Not paying for that software puts their investment at risk. If the developers disappear, they end up with a bunch of unsupported software. Jun 30, 2015 at 15:36

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