Contributing to FOSS Aligns Organizations and Society

A reduction in development cost (initial development, maintenance, …) is often mentioned as the main reward for a company (or other organization) in contributing to Free/Open-Source Software. There are other rewards that might prove more valuable in the long-term.

Software is a medium, in which an increasingly large portion of the concepts and processes of out daily lives are expressed (see also http://www.scribd.com/doc/6955070/WhyFOSSMatters).

Releasing software as FOSS allows society to adopt, reject, modify, extend, etc. the concepts expressed in this software. The release of in-house developed software will thus validate it against the FOSS community, a broader user base and eventually against the beliefs and convictions of society. In my (not so humble) opinion a much more important benefit than the cost reduction is the formation of consensus around concepts and conventions as they are expressed in the software released. This either engrains in the fabric of society the specific ways the releasing organization conceives of the concepts, methods and processes relevant to its operation, or it reflects back onto those concepts, methods and processes the views held by society. In both cases the organization wins. To win in the second case the organization may need to change to some extent in order to remain aligned with society.

Contrast this with an organization that surrounds its internal procedures, concepts, and corporate knowledge and specifically the implemantation thereof in terms of software with secrecy. Such an organization forfeits the opportunity of this kind of alignment with society.

Other forms of contribution to FOSS promise similar rewards. An organization encouraging its employees to write feature requests, bug reports, how-tos, contribute to documentation, etc. and thus actively partaking in the FOSS community will be more aligned with that same community than one that discourages such behavior.

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