[ox-en] Measuring the commercial influences on Free Software
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2007 21:52:00 +0100
During the P2P workshop an issue which came up several times were about
how big the commercial influences on Free Software are. An issue which
comes up on this list also again and again (hi StefanS :-) ).
On the workshop there were to empirical studies about this which
fairly contradicted each other. It quickly became clear that it is
methodologically difficult to set up a good survey on this issue in
the first place.
One of the interesting insights was that part of this difficulties
come from the fact that peer production and capitalist production are
closely interwoven and so it is very hard to make useful separations
Another interesting insight was that peer production influences the
companies as well. It would be thus also interesting to study these
influences as well - though this is probably even harder.
I for one would it find it great if there would be an empirical study
on Free Software products which answers the questions most relevant to
Oekonux. I'll create a Wiki page under
http://en.wiki.oekonux.org/Oekonux/Research after gathering a few
responses here. May be some researcher out there finds this and does
us the favor.
Here are some requirements which come to my mind:
* Consider small projects also
Most of the studies which actively approach Free Software projects
do so by looking at the big and huge projects - like the Linux
kernel, Eclipse, OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, and so on. However, a good
part of for instance a complete Linux based operating system are
small programs such as "grep" or Perl modules like in the CPAN.
These small programs are often maintained by a few people if not a
A useful survey needs to make sure that those projects are
considered as much as the big ones are.
* Careful consideration of paid time
What people puzzles mostly is that there are Free Software
developers which are paid by their companies for their development
efforts. Or to be more exact: That they work for Free Software
during their paid time. However, that people do something during
their paid time does not say everything about the relation of their
employers to what they do - think of coffee breaks for an example.
I think there are a number of types of Free Software development
during paid time which needs to be distinguished:
* Non-official work
That is when people work on Free Software on their spare time
without knowledge of the management. This can be the case when you
use a certain Free tool during your job and improve it as a side
effect to your normal work and give the improvements back to the
community. This also applies to Free tools developed during a job.
* Half-official work
There may be times when people are not working on a job project
because there is no order at the moment. In these times management
may give people the opportunity to work at their own projects
which may be Free Software. Google even has an official 20%(?)
share of such time.
* Non-competetive work
If you work in the software sector then you know that often there
are tools you use but which are not of competetive interest to you
customer. For instance in a big company you may develop a Wiki
engine for the Intranet but the core business of the company is in
a totally different sector - such as finances for instance. In
that case the management may allow that in-house development be
public Free Software.
* Competitive work
This is the case when a company officially engages in a Free
Software project because it has manifest interests in this
project. For instance if a processor vendor engages in the Linux
kernel to make it run on his processors. Then the employees not
only officially work for the company in the Free Software project
but also this is relevant to competition.
Only in the last case I see the danger of alienated influences from
paid labor. And even then it should be distinguished whether these
influences are more useful or more harmful for the community.
* Careful consideration of non-paid time
If develop Free Software during non-paid time then it seems to be
clear that this must be based on Selbstentfaltung. However, there
might be cases where people during their non-paid time they do
things in the interest of commercial interests - be it in their own
interest or in the interest of their company.
A useful survey must try to make a distinction here as well as it
does for paid time.
* Different commercial interests
It would also be useful to distinguish between the source of
commercial interests. Is it because a developer wants to learn
something or her employer wants her to do so? Or is it because the
developed Free Software should fulfill a mission critical commercial
Well, these are my ideas so far. May be others have more ideas?
Contact: projekt oekonux.de