During the Code for Freedom contest that was held in India from Aug 15th last year to Feb 14th this year, I travelled to various universities as part of the Sun university initiative spreading awareness of Sun's technologies and open source in general to college students. Last week, I was in Chennai and Delhi giving talks on Sun's software portfolio and Netbeans to ISVs. This post is about something that I noticed in common during my experience in these 7-8 months.
I can see students and ISVs showing tremendous interest in learning Sun Technologies, especially Netbeans and Open Solaris (ZFS, zones and DTrace). Be it the students or the developers, everyone is either passionate or eager to know about Open Source and Sun's technologies. This is a big positive thing for Sun. However, I rarely find people interested in or talking about participation. Everyone seems to like Open Source. But when asked why, their answer is simple - "Its free. Its rocking! I am able to use it to MY advantage!" Of course, its free and no one is preventing you from using it. But is that all open source is about ? Not many people I have seen say "I want to make netbeans better!" May be the concept of open source goes against the usual human mentality - You are done when you get your job done!
"I have a problem that I need to fix. May be this netbeans plugin would be useful. Let me use it. Period!" Thats how most people look at it. Not many go that extra mile - "This plugin is useful..Hmm..how could I make it even better?" And out of the few who go that extra mile, not many complete the circle of open source - putting their 'better code' back to the community. That is a sad reality that needs to be changed.
May be the name 'Open Source' doesn't stand upto its entire concept! The name tells the world the source is open and anyone can take it, but misses out on the crucial piece of contributing.
For those who love open source and have been involved only with the first half of the open source cycle, here is an analogy that I would like to give. Most of us would have gone through forums looking out for interview experiences. And the rest of us would have used some kind of torrent software to download movies! How did the movies or interview experiences land up on the internet? Its because someone dint want to download or retrieve information alone, but also wanted to share the information that he had! Now, imagine everyone wanting to only retrieve information. Will there be any movies to download or any information on the message forums ?
By downloading open source software alone, you increase the gap between people contributing and people retrieving which is not good for open source and ultimately not good for the you the 'open source software downloader'.
Using open source to your benefit and giving back nothing is neither good for open source nor for you! So, Lets Share, Participate, Innovate and Realize the Power of OpenSource!