The Open Source Model Is About Organization, Not Who Signs Your Paycheck
from the peer-production dept
Nick Carr points out a report from the Linux Foundation that finds that most contributions to the Linux kernel come from people who work at companies. Nick Carr says this is a sign of a “shift from the volunteer to the corporate model,” which I think misses the point on a couple of different levels. For starters, most of the people contributing to the kernel are professional programmers, and most professional programmers have jobs in the software industry. So it’s totally unsurprising that most kernel contributors work for software companies.
But Carr’s observation also misses the point in a deeper way. What makes the open source model unique isn’t who (if anyone) signs the contributors’ paychecks. Rather, what matters is the way open source projects are organized internally. In a traditional software project, there’s a project manager who decides what features the product will have and allocates employees to work on various features. In contrast, there’s nobody directing the overall development of the Linux kernel. Yes, Linus Torvalds and his lieutenants decide which patches will ultimately make it into the kernel, but the Red Hat, IBM, and Novell employees who work on the Linux kernel don’t take their orders from them. They work on whatever they (and their respective clients) think is most important, and Torvalds’s only authority is deciding whether the patches they submit are good enough to make it into the kernel. Carr suggests that the non-volunteer status of Linux contributors proves that the Internet “doesn’t necessarily weaken the hand of central management,” but that’s precisely what the open source development model has done. There is no “central management” for the Linux kernel, and it would probably be a less successful project if there were.