What motivates Open Source developers?

TuxQuite often you run into the strange argument that Open Source software cannot be good because really good people does not work for free. Most people know that this is stupid because idealistic or excited people do not care about money for their work – and because several important developers are paid by companies to develop Open Source software.

However, the question is how many of these people are paid, is not entirely clear and there are hardly facts available to argument against the usual FUD. Until now: As this article (sorry, german onl) shows, Benno Luthiger Stoll has finished a dissertation dealing with the subject “Spass und Software-Entwicklung – Zur Motivation von Open-Source-Programmierern”, or, roughly translated into english: “Fun and software development – about the motivation of Open Source developers”. The dissertation itself is a 261 pages containing PDF file, and is, again, only available in German. It analysis many parameters and even tries a (very rough) comparison with company developers (for example they have 12% females, Open Source developers have 2% females). In this case, btw. the study is a bit hard to read because he seems to differentiate between “Open Source developers”, “Professional Open Source developers” (paid Open Source developers) and “commercial developers” (people working at closed source and are employed by a company). This is a bit confusing, and I’m missing a control sample of developers who work on free, but closed source software. But, before you assume that I’ve read the dissertation: I just flew over some parts.

To come to the point: One of the main aspects which was very surprising is this: one third of the asked Open Source developers works for a company – they are paid for their work! And this number is most certainly too small since the Open Source developers were gathered through the projects sourceforge, GNU/Savannah and Berlios. Large software projects which have a higher amount of paid developers or company projctes often have their own project pages and are therefore not represenetd in this study.
And, to give an even more surprising number: 42% of the work done by all developers is paid – therefore almost half of all the work done in Open Source development on these platforms is paid. Together with the adjustment because of not detected projects this amount is even higher.

So, ext time someone says something about “not paid Open Source” development, just laugh about him, and tell him that he has no idea. An if you want to know more about the motivation, read the study, seems to be worth it.

2 thoughts on “What motivates Open Source developers?”

  1. Fun (to play around and modify the code as u like !) and Satisfaction (that your software will be used by millions !!) are in my opinion the best things a developer can gain out of opensource🙂
    And ofcourse there will be a nice developer ‘n’ user community with you..

  2. The dissertation has these aspects in mind – fun is mentioned in the title!
    The reason why I stressed out the money is that too many people think OSS is only developed for fun – in the way of “just hobby, nothing professional”. And that’s wrong.
    OSS is a good example that you can earn money doing that what you like most.

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