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osOpinion: Who owns you?

Sep 01, 2000, 06:48 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Simon Cozens)

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"It's every hacker's dream, and thankfully, it's getting more common every day: being paid to work on your favourite piece of free software. But it's also pretty fraught with controversy, and especially if you happen to be the maintainer of the project: accusations will fly over conflicts of interest, political manipulation, and all kinds of other dirty whisperings. It's hard - if not impossible - to keep on the right side of everyone, and so the most important thing to do is keep yourself honest. So how do you take that dream job without losing your impartiality?"

"First, though, let's have a look at why they're doing it: the reasons why companies are employing people to hack on free software. Surprisingly, it's more than just mere self-interest. Sure, it's good to have an in-house expert on your side. And there is, of course, a big prestige advantage in having the big names in a project working for you: to take a random example, Red Hat employs Alan Cox and Dave Miller - these guys know Linux, and this naturally improves Red Hat's credibility as well. There's also the importance of showing that you're serious about free software - the best way to do so is to pour money into it, and arguably the best way to do that is to employ someone to work on it."

"But there's also the fact that some companies really do employ free software hackers primarily because they love the software - as another random example, O'Reilly employ Larry Wall not just because Perl is a big part of their business, but also because Perl is just darned cool. In reality, I'd say most of the free software hiring that goes on happens for a mixture of the above reasons. (Incidentally, I've singled out Red Hat and ORA as examples of some of the reasons, but that doesn't mean that the reasons I picked are the only reasons for employing Larry and Dave and Alan.)"

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