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Does your company donate financially to open source projects?

My company doesn't. We use open source operating systems, tools, libraries, IDEs, application servers, databases, websites (Wikipedia) etc. We produce a product from this which we sell.

Yet we contribute nothing back.

I'm sure this is the normal case in many companies.

How can this be justified?

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it doesn't need to be justified. –  NimChimpsky Nov 15 '10 at 14:48
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6 Answers

As part of the corporate responsibility, A company can do several things other than a mere donation. In fact it can do better than donation. Donation is just a give away of money to a responsible organization. But there are many companies out there who contribute to society in many ways. Such as company can utilize open source in the day to day productivity. It can publish open source application usages in blogs, web site twitter etc. It can re-distribute open source by embedding them in their own applications. Company can let some of its own developers to contribute to open source projects.

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Sometimes, monetary donations don't help as much as you might think. See, for instance, this Coding Horror article: Is Money Useless to Open Source Projects?

As for my employer... I work for a local government, so no, we don't contribute financially to the open source projects we use.

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Your company may be willing to open source some of its own non-business-critical software.

For example: maybe you create a tool to help compile your projects and package them up. You realize it could be useful to others, and it won't hurt your company to open source it. Since it's not part of their business (meaning, they're not going to lose a competitive edge), they may be willing to do so.

You can claim the following as benefits:

  • it doesn't hurt them
  • they may save money by not maintaining this project anymore
  • they can claim they contribute to the open source movement (for example: at conferences, on their site, on promotional materials)
  • they can add it to job postings, encouraging other open source coders to come work for them
  • they can give back to the community they've taken from
  • they keep you, as their valued employee, happy

You can even offer to do it completely for free, on your personal time. The benefit for you is a brand new open source project you're in charge of, which you can add to your resume.

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I assume you're talking about OSI-certified open source licenses and the software under them.

There is no obligation to contribute financially, and therefore no justification is necessary. As a user, you're not costing the F/OSS project anything. In a corporation, contributing valuable resources needs justification.

This doesn't have to be negative for the company. If you send in good bug reports, that's a contribution, and many projects also like feature requests. If you send your own fixes or enhancements to the project, that's also a contribution, and if you can push them upstream that's likely to be better for everybody.

Of course, there's no obligation on the part of the project, so if you want any sort of voice in the project you need to contribute in some form. Many projects accept money, some accept contracts, and most will accept developer time and work.

It can be worthwhile supporting F/OSS projects if you can get some advertising or geek cred out of it. O'Reilly, for example, at one time kept Larry Wall (the creator of Perl) on the payroll in the hope of selling more Perl books.

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The company has a duty to its shareholders to maximise the return on their investment. There are two options:

  • don't contribute financially
  • contribute financially

The directors have to choose the option that improves shareholder return. Only one of the two options involves not spending money.

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the third option is to actually hire that company to write a specific update i.e. if let's say an OSS you're using does not have feature X, you can hire them to write it and pay them. –  dassouki Nov 15 '10 at 15:25
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@dassouki: assuming the benefit to the company of doing so is higher than of getting someone else to do it in-house, or the cost is lesser. –  user4051 Nov 15 '10 at 15:33
    
ROI on sub-optimal solution can be lower. Spend some bucks to improve a project can be profitable. –  bigown Nov 16 '10 at 10:05
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I encourage the following when asked what to do:

  • Contribute back all enhancements you made, even if the license doesn't explicitely ask you to do so.

  • Contribute back to the community by releasing some of your pojects as open source.

  • Contribute financially if you can't do any of the above or you feel it's not enought.

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