Thursday, June 21, 2012
Understanding Open Source
As the developer of the Open Source first-person-shooter project, Red Eclipse, I have come across many different types of personalities; some are good, some are bad. Quite often, I will have someone looking to contribute to the project who is so convinced that their point of view is so important that it only ever ends badly. Unfortunately, you can’t control this kind of thing, but in the past I have attempted to guide these people along the right path, albeit unsuccessfully most of the time.
I believe there is a misconception surrounding the phrase “Open Source”, that many people bang against and wonder why they’re met with such hostility. When a person decides to release their creations with an Open Source license, their desire is most often always to share it with the public in many ways, including allowing everyone to use and/or modify it for free.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Free as in beer, not free as in speech”, but maybe don’t quite understand the implications of that. The creator of Open Source content is looking to give you something for free, and quite often allows you to take it and do whatever you want with it; the most beneficial part of which is the ability to study, modify, and play with it. This creator already has their own ideas, their own opinions, and their own way of doing things.
Every so often, you have an individual come along who has their own ideas and opinions, and they are so fixed on the concept that their way is the right way, they end up having a complete disregard for the creator, and the community behind that creation, if one exists. These people will enter a community, demand that everyone conforms to their vision, and when they discover the creator and/or community are resistant to it, blames everyone else for the fact that they failed. This often ends with the person declaring something along the lines of: “I should have known better, you don’t appreciate me, I’ll go elsewhere and get my way there.”
The problem is, these people don’t ever try to integrate with a project naturally, they appear to expect instant results as soon as they come along, and assume they know everything they need to know. This is mostly untrue. Throwing a tantrum and refusing to share your toys is the best way to ensure that everyone will instantly dislike you. To them, they were doing just fine before you came along trying to shake the tree and making demands of them, and they will continue to do just fine without you.
Open Source is a democracy of one. Someone, somewhere up the chain, came up with the idea and executed it. They built it, and they own it. Just because they have given something to you free of charge, does not entitle you to start telling them how to do their “job”. You’re not paying them, in fact, they’re giving up their free time to follow an idea that they are passionate about, and it is just a side effect of generosity that they released it for everyone to enjoy. Too many people think that Open Source bestows a right of ownership on them, but if you ever read one of these licenses carefully, all a creator is giving you is the right to use, distribute, and/or modify it.
So, if you’re looking to contribute to an Open Source project, now or sometime in the future, try to remember this: You are a guest in someone else’s home, please respect them and the work they have done. Try to understand their vision and their rules, get to know the way they operate, find out if they’re even interested in your ideas. If you approach them with a good understanding of their work, you’re more likely to get the result you are after, or maybe even find some other way you can fit in.