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The Bazaar and the Magic Cauldron: Boiling It Down

Aug 19, 1999, 00:44 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nathan Myers)

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Contributed by Linux Today reader Nathan Myers

Why is Free Software successful? Leaving aside ideology, it succeeds because it meets real people's real needs. The natural question is, why do people spend time and money improving software for others, free?

The question has two remarkably simple answers.

Suppose you are using some Free Software in your business. You find a bug or discover you need a new feature, so you take care of it (or hire it done) yourself. Then you have what you need, and you don't really have to do anything else.

However, a new version of the program will soon be released. You must decide whether you want to use the new version, and if so you must integrate your changes into it. This happens each time a new version comes out. If you were to send in your changes and get them integrated into the mainline code, each new version would already have your changes.

As long as you keep your changes private, nobody else is using them. Once your changes get integrated into the mainline code, other people start using them, and improving them. As a result, each new release of the program not only has your changes integrated, it may have improvements on your changes.

Thus, publishing your changes (1) cuts your own workload and (2) attracts free assistance from others with similar needs.

The process doesn't depend on altruism or a sense of community, although many people are also motivated that way. It doesn't depend on people working to establish a reputation, although many are. It doesn't depend on proprietary alternatives being intolerably restricted, expensive, or buggy, although they often are.

These simple and easily-felt benefits to people who work on Free Software ensure that many will continue to participate, and that Free Software will continue to respond to real people's real needs.