Businesses Need Clear Policies For FOSS Contributions

by Ostatic Staff - May. 10, 2010

When many people think of contributions to free, open source software projects, the immediate image that comes to mind is an individual contributor. However, while it's true that individual contributors have a huge impact on FOSS, it's worth remembering that many of the most meaningful contributions come from businesses. In many cases, FOSS benefits them. However, there are some signs that businesses that do contribute to open source projects need clearer guidelines for how to do so.

Many businesses have a huge impact on FOSS development. As Kristin noted in this post, the Linux kernel, for example, gets huge contributions from enterprises, as reported in a Linux Foundation study:

"In the 2.6.30 cycle, for instance, there were 1,150 individual developers and 240 companies contributing to the release. The study states that a third of the developers in any given cycle contribute a single patch -- with the 30 most active individual developers contributing over 25% of the changes. While Red Hat leads the corporate charge with a committed change rate of 12%, the study explains that 500 contributing companies were not listed (probably for the sake of brevity) that had contributed fewer, but no less significant, changes."

However, Elizabeth Krumbach notes in this post that IBM--which makes big contributions to FOSS--needed to streamline processes for contributions from within the company:

"They needed to get involved directly with small contributions and do away with closed-door meetings and canned corporate responses. IBM employees were empowered to become community members. They needed to learn to collaborate with the community to develop higher quality solutions than they could have in-house, and to start these discussions with the community early in the brainstorming process."

Businesses give to open source because open source increasingly gives back to businesses. Krumbach's post above is worth reading for anyone with any level of business involvement in open source projects. With clear guidelines in place, companies as large as IBM, and much smaller ones, can maximize their positive impact on open source.  

Image courtesy of Kevindooley on Flickr.