Leeches? Give me a break!

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The article that triggered this headline and blog entry is “The fight over open source ‘leeches'” in InfoWorld. The basic idea is that while some people toil away for hours on end, others just use free and open source code and never contribute anything back. That makes them leeches, in the vocabulary used in the article.

It would be nice if everyone played together nicely all the time and shared all their toys. As we know, this happens constantly in the proprietary software business, not.

My position is that as long as you are following the letter and the law of the free and open source license of the code you wish to use, more power to you. Use it. Innovate. Extend it. Build something wonderful that no one has ever seen before. Don’t re-invent the wheel, re-invent the concept of transportation.

I urge you to contribute back fixes and improvements, even if you are not required to do so. If you are required to do so, well, do so. But don’t feel guilty.

Guilt can be a damaging thing and is not going to make more people contribute. Contribute because you believe it is the right thing to do and you have something of significant value to give back. If you can’t donate code right now because you you don’t have said fixes or improvements, plan to do it next year. In the meanwhile, make sure that you have the open source corporate or organizational governance to allow you to do so.

Move incrementally to make open source a natural part of the way you work, perhaps as a user first and then a contributor later. But use it! That’s the “free and open” part.

Beyond the licenses and the governance of the development communities themselves, what you do with the code is up to you. You MUST follow the rules of the licenses. You need NOT be guilt tripped into anything else.

But do try to contribute and move your organization to one that both takes and gives. Understand the culture and value of the free and open source movement. That’s why we’ve seen the explosive growth in its creation and use. I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue.

Nice headline, though. Made me read the article.


  1. Simply encouraging ones friends and colleagues to try an open source product can help to “give back”, by increasing the awareness of, and interest in, the product.

  2. Written by an Apple and Microsoft shareholder (he admitted this). This is not the first time Synder puts such bait in IDG. I just ignore it.

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