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Jan Dvorak
Jan Dvorak

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Companies should be financially supporting FOSS where possible

On March 18th I tweeted:

Companies where FOSS is integral to operations or is a major component in applications and the developer or projects have Open Collective, GitHub Sponsor or other way to contribute to them or the project, the company should be at least at the minimum tier of support. No excuses.

I wanted to expand on this a bit, though things might be a bit disjointed.

Today, FOSS is everywhere. From smart watches to strategic infrastructure. it has become so universally used that we have seen some curious things happening when suddenly one piece stops working. Be it left-pad or faker.js in case of JavaScript community. Again and again multiple issues have been highlighted bringing back to mind the legendary xkcd picture of precariously balanced modern infrastructure and some even wondering if we have forgotten to program due to the sheer number of dependencies that you can find in a modern web app.

thankless dependency

The pervasive use of FOSS has lead to its over use in many cases like we have seen in left-pad and created a culture with question of ownership and growing number of entitled users. I have mused about this previously that it should be expected to sponsor FOSS packages/projects where such an option exists. Especially if it is an important part in a commercial/production project.

Companies are encouraged to establish FOSS processes that focus on evaluating FOSS licenses and doing other risk mitigation or management. Linux Foundation even offers free training on this. And we have tools like Open Collective and GitHub Sponsor which make it easier then ever before to support FOSS developers and projects.

Despite everything a culture of taking and expecting everything to be for free while also being perfect has taken root. Thankfully the embarrassing failings of the past have moved many tech companies to invest in foundations and other projects. Like we see through culture in the end it the most popular projects and people that get the funding. Still at least things are moving in the right direction.

Sadly as much as things are moving in the right direction it is still a minority, a visible minority, but still a minority. Many corporations and companies are still unable to for various reasons to do so. That is if the though even crosses the mind. For example in one of my contracts I have brought up that since react-hook-form is being used through multiple projects and is a very crucial package, it would be good idea to support the project financially to help in ensuring that it is maintained in the future. I did only ask for for a small sum, that for corporation of the size could be considered an insignificant rounding error. My boss was very supporting, but even a month later with my boss pushing it, we are no closer to get it done then when we began. At the end of the day, it is not a priority and it is free to begin with.

Beside large corporations, even smaller companies and individuals have not been better, even if the finances are not the question. Some of the entitlement and the bad behavior that I have seen from individuals made me seriously reconsider any future involvement with FOSS.

FOSS is a collective endeavor. That is what needs to be realized here. FOSS is so cheap/free, because everyone contributes in some way to keep things together, be it money, resources, time or something else. The projects where this works thrive. If that is not working you can keep things going if there is well-funded company backing the project (that seems to me, be partially what COSS is about). If all of that is lacking, then it is only matter of time before the project fails.

Many more example and cost analyses can be given to why companies should be supporting FOSS. We have long since pass the era where tech and Internet was just a niche things where failure would have little to no impact beyond the digital world. I think it is time to make that more clear and social expectation.

I do not agree with the constant push on companies to be "moral" and involved in cultural and political issues. But since many of them are I think it is not inappropriate to ask them to be involved with technological communities that allow for their success. Heck, I would prefer that they would be involved there where it makes sense for their business rather than in matters that are not related to their business, just because someone tweeted at them. Maybe we could start with the big brands and tweet at them something like:

Hey BRAND! I see that you are putting millions into SOCIAL/POLITICAL CAUSE. What about being a good community member and putting money into TECH COMMUNITY that underpins your business?

It seems like a bit of bullying is super effective against big brands, so we could start there. Even a few thousand dollars could go a long way in under-funded communities. With the big brads funding others will follow suit.

I think we should change the mindset for FOSS. Not that it is free and you can just take and take and forget about anything else. It should be that it is free to get started, but if you want to scale, you need not just to invest into scaling your business, but also the community that supports the technologies that you are growing with.

I do believe that even more benefits will follow for the companies that embrace this thinking.


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