Open Source "Leeches"
Daniel Selman 2700022VQ3 Visits (2333)
James Owen sent me a link to to an InfoWorld article titled, "The fight over open source 'leeches'". I suspect he sent me the link because ILOG has used Eclipse for a long time internally and distributes several products that include technology licensed under the Eclipse Public License.
Michael Scharf (member of the Eclipse architecture council) kicked the ant-hill with a strongly worded blog post that has sent some ripples through the Eclipse community. In essence his argument is a very old one, and it is misguided for a couple of reasons: first, software is (essentially) limitless -- a user of an Open Source software project does not diminish the "commons" in any meaningful way. Secondly users are REALLY IMPORTANT as they represent the link between the ivory tower of software architecture and solving a business problem. Even if they are completely passive, their adoption rate can tell you important things about your solution to their problem. This argument is summarized by Brian Proffitt in "The Myth of the Freeloading User", so I shan't repeat it here.
So, while ILOG has undoubtedly profited from using Eclipse technology commercially, we have also tried to be "good citizens": contributing back bug reports, fixes, code and even proposing and leading projects. This has happened fairly organically and was not the result of an executive strategy, at least that I am aware of. I'd therefore dispute the claim that companies are unlikely to "do the right thing". What is true however is that most companies do not have the means (intellectual or financial) to contribute code to the projects that they use. Not everyone can write high-quality API and implementation code that is destined to be used by thousands to millions of people.
I think that it is excellent that Bjorn Freeman-Benson (ex-Eclipse Foundation) has triggered some useful introspection within the Eclipse community, however the complex interplay between users, commercial products and open source projects is something that I believe the foundation has got 90% right.