Open Source Production: not only code

Most people thinks that being “open source” means being coders or contributing patches, and it is still controversial how companies position themselves in the OSS market. Most people consider a company OSS when it contributes code to an OSS project, but nowadays a significant value of open source lies in non-code contributions.

During previous research projects, I found several references to code contributions (and most online tracking services like Commits in Action or Ohloh but it is nearly impossible to find traces of non-code contributions. During the creation of the knowledge base of the COSPA project I found an amazingly well written report by the French Réseau National en Technologies Logicielles called “New economic models, new software industry economy” where I found a telling text snippet on the OpenCASCADE CAD framework:

In the year 2000, fifty outside contributors to Open Cascade provided various kinds of assistance: transferring software to other systems (IRIX 64 bits, Alpha OSF), correcting defects (memory leaks…) and translating the tutorial into Spanish, etc. Currently, there are seventy active contributors and the objective is to reach one hundred. These outside contributions are significant. Open Cascade estimates that they represent about 20 % of the value of the software.

This 20% is mainly non-code related, but it’s 20% of the project value nevertheless. This happens in a very vertical, and technical-oriented environment; but if we look at a highly successful open source project like KDE, we can find something like this:

KDE From Aaron Seigo’s speech, in Akademy 2006

Software development is just one of the tasks necessary to build a large scale, complex system like KDE, and I have no doubt that something similar applies to GNOME, Fedora or OpenSolaris.

We should start thinking more about how to study non-code contributions, and how this relates to the commercialization of open source projects (and not only software).

Technorati Tags: OpenCascade, Open Source Production, KDE