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View Full Version : Why do IBM, Novell and other big corporations contribute to open source?



tc101
January 12th, 2007, 10:47 PM
I have a general question about open source. I understand why programmers work on it for free, and I understand why rich people like the guy who started ubuntu will give large donations to start companies to develop it. The thing I don't understand is why big corporations like IBM and Novell do it. They are all about money and profit. Why do they this for free. There is obviously something about this I don't understand.

Brunellus
January 12th, 2007, 10:49 PM
IBM wants a free operating system that will run on their hardware. Rapid development of Linux allows them to deliver their hardware and services quicker and more cheaply.

CPtAJ
January 12th, 2007, 11:59 PM
There are many reasons. A lot of corporations use open source software. If a project they rely on is dying they will more than likely help fund it. Monetary contributions are not the only form of "donation" there is either. Some companies actually help with the code itself. I don't remember where I heard this but someone once said "The best way to get that fancy new feature your company wants is to code it yourself."

spockrock
January 13th, 2007, 12:43 AM
exactly IBM are the ones who added patchs for the linux kernel to work with the cell processor, they do it because they want linux to run on their hardware.

Some companies add code because simply put they don't want a push for open standards, the largest contributors to openoffice is IBM, and Sun (I believe, dunno about IBM giving source code though) and they do it so MS Office does not have a complete market share hold, and start creating their own proprietary standards. This means that other companies cannot create their own office suites because MS wont support the competitions document formats (I don't think office will open any openoffice format), and it also means that companies will have to reverse engineer ms formats, and that can take time, every time a new version is out, they have to reverse engineer their format again.

Its why Netscape open sourced Navigator and how the mozilla foundation was created, if Microsoft got a complete hold on the browser market then they could pervert the W3C standards.

BTW Its to help open up standards or create shared standards when they are appropriate, and necessary.

parker13
January 13th, 2007, 12:50 AM
Because they (at long last) understand the power of open source.

Brunellus
January 13th, 2007, 02:01 AM
Because they (at long last) understand the power of open source.
That's a self-serving answer and not terribly helpful, I'm afraid.

The "power" is that it drives their development costs down, mercilessly. That translates into greater profit margins on their services and/or reduced prices for their customers.

sweemeng
January 13th, 2007, 02:08 AM
first of all, IBM, Novell and not to mention netscape is dying that time.

second, yeah they finally got the idea of openness.

actually moving to Open Source make perfectly good business sense. i mean, IBM into support, so it is not a bad idea to support linux. it is easier for an Open Source OS to be ported to other hardware, try do that with windows. Also by going into open source, more people will be writing software for it. look at eclipse. and maybe jeronimo server. and it is a good move indeed.

another example is novell. novell's own netware don't really sells anymore, so they need a new revenue stream. so at least to me, linux make a good choice. i can't really imagine, what other software product can be profitable.

not to mention everything is about, reducing cost and increased profits

Kernel Sanders
January 13th, 2007, 02:15 AM
The fact is, free community driven and community contributed software >>>>>>>>> Company made software 8)

spockrock
January 13th, 2007, 02:34 AM
first of all, IBM, Novell and not to mention netscape is dying that time.



umm, when was IBM at the point of dying, I dont think IBM was ever at that point.

sweemeng
January 13th, 2007, 04:17 AM
umm, when was IBM at the point of dying, I dont think IBM was ever at that point.

it doesn't!!!!!!!!!!!
my mistake ](*,)

i think open source does helps alot there.

DigitalDuality
January 13th, 2007, 04:21 AM
d

Dr. C
January 13th, 2007, 04:31 AM
Corporations contibute to Open Source because free as in speech software is a highly profitable multi billion dollar business. Furthermore the GPL does a very good job of preventing competitors from taking an unfair advantage of the corporation's contributions.

maniacmusician
January 13th, 2007, 04:56 AM
How interesting! I was just over at IBM today for a school thing!

I got to talk to David Shields (I think that was his name; I have a bad memory), who is the leading open-source specialist at IBM right now. He pretty much confirmed to me what Brunellus said at the beginning of the thread.

Another reason he gave me is that it's a way of enhancing competition against Microsoft, which they desperately want to do.

It's not like IBM believes in the good morality of open-source or anything; they're a corporation. The morality is a fringe benefit for them, but mostly it's to further their own products. Whatever their reasons, they can do a lot to push Linux forward. So in true corporation style, I think we should use IBM to further Linux, while they use it to further themselves. Scratch their back, they'll scratch ours, etc etc.

BTW, How do you pronounce Linus's name? Just curious, I think Mr. Shields got it wrong...:)

Polygon
January 13th, 2007, 05:02 AM
ive always said it just like it sounds, aka how "linus" was called in charlie brown... i dont think there is any specific way of pronouncing it..

and even if they dont really care about the community, they still realize that open source is better cause then everything works better, less hassle for them to trouble shoot when the operating system is taken out the picture (usually)

Christmas
January 13th, 2007, 05:07 AM
I think it's Leenoos. At least this is how he pronounces Linux (Leenoox).

spockrock
January 13th, 2007, 07:02 AM
How interesting! I was just over at IBM today for a school thing!

I got to talk to David Shields (I think that was his name; I have a bad memory), who is the leading open-source specialist at IBM right now. He pretty much confirmed to me what Brunellus said at the beginning of the thread.

Another reason he gave me is that it's a way of enhancing competition against Microsoft, which they desperately want to do.

It's not like IBM believes in the good morality of open-source or anything; they're a corporation. The morality is a fringe benefit for them, but mostly it's to further their own products. Whatever their reasons, they can do a lot to push Linux forward. So in true corporation style, I think we should use IBM to further Linux, while they use it to further themselves. Scratch their back, they'll scratch ours, etc etc.

BTW, How do you pronounce Linus's name? Just curious, I think Mr. Shields got it wrong...:)

yes thats the reason why they contribute to openoffice.org, from my understanding alot of the code and money in the project come from IBM and Sun, to increase competition against ms office.

Mathiasdm
January 13th, 2007, 09:12 AM
The fact is, free community driven and community contributed software >>>>>>>>> Company made software 8)

That's debatable.

There's good open source software and bad open source software, same with closed source software.

The difference is: if you don't like an open source program, you can change it yourself.

BoyOfDestiny
January 13th, 2007, 09:24 AM
Redhat had the 8th biggest opening stock-wise in history. It's merely a different business model. That's all. Linux can adopt itself as a community thing, as a busines thing, as many things. That's the beauty of the gpl.

Just want to echo the GPL sentiment.
For those curious to learn more about it:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html

Under What is free software


* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

They have to abide by this license in the case of Linux.

All those community's and developers can't be used as a doormat... If you are a regular end user you really don't have to care about anything but "freedom 0"... But a lot of folks benefit by building on the shoulders of giants...

Like another user said, you give and you get. Otherwise you could just walk away and close the code up... And end up competing against your own work... Not that there is anything wrong with that (BSD uses it, and OS X as it's base)... But there is a reason the GPL is a very popular open source license :)

troymcdavis
January 13th, 2007, 09:56 AM
http://www.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=310609

kripkenstein
January 13th, 2007, 11:49 AM
One reason (among others) that should be mentioned is that big companies contribute to Linux because they have no choice. For example, Linux has widespread use in the server world. If (to continue an example from before) IBM want people to use their Cell chip in servers, and the Cell chip needs some kernel drivers, then those drivers must be open-source, because of the GPL.

So it isn't just that open-source is good for business (which it is) or that open-source software is generally better (which it arguably is). It is also that the most-used open-source licenses force even megacorporations to 'play nice'. The GPL does that. The BSD license doesn't, which is one reason BSD never took off like Linux did.

G Morgan
January 13th, 2007, 02:22 PM
umm, when was IBM at the point of dying, I dont think IBM was ever at that point.

They weren't looking healthy in the late 80's early 90's after they had spent billions on the PC only to get shy and passive handing the market entirely to an aggressive and lean MS. Now the tables have turned and MS are bloated by middle management and IBM are a leaner company who are trying new things and backing it to the extent they need.

Many benefits to OSS for companies. Take Java, Sun Microsystems are hoping to get a continuous stream of money from embedded hardware JVMs they make. In order for this to happen Java must remain the standard for embedded media so it needs to be better, hence OSS. Also they sell a lot of servers using Java stacks so strengthening the product will help them sell hardware.

23meg
January 13th, 2007, 02:32 PM
In the words of Bill Hilf, head of Microsoft's open source and *nix lab, "it makes good business sense".

ssam
January 13th, 2007, 02:47 PM
BTW, How do you pronounce Linus's name? Just curious, I think Mr. Shields got it wrong...:)

http://www.paul.sladen.org/pronunciation/

Brunellus
January 13th, 2007, 03:03 PM
Just want to echo the GPL sentiment.
For those curious to learn more about it:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html

Under What is free software


* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

They have to abide by this license in the case of Linux.

All those community's and developers can't be used as a doormat... If you are a regular end user you really don't have to care about anything but "freedom 0"... But a lot of folks benefit by building on the shoulders of giants...

Like another user said, you give and you get. Otherwise you could just walk away and close the code up... And end up competing against your own work... Not that there is anything wrong with that (BSD uses it, and OS X as it's base)... But there is a reason the GPL is a very popular open source license :)
I tend to conceptualize the business benefits of Free Software in much much more concrete terms. Freedom 0 and Freedom 2 are the most relevant to a business.

Consider: when a firm agrees to Microsoft's EULA, it agrees to a very long list of restrictions on the use of Microsoft software. The most notorious of the restrictions, of course, is that in order to use the software, they should have to pay for every single installation in their organization. The consequence of non-compliance is legal action resulting in harsh penalties.

Say our imaginary firm has 100 employees who have computers. Under Microsoft's proprietary model, they buy a block of 100 licenses to use Microsoft's software. But what happens if they are successful and add another 10 employees with computers? They have to go back and buy 10 more licenses.

If that firm had gone with Free software under the GPL, Freedom 0 and Freedom 2 would permit the firm to add as many new employees and computers using GPL software as necessary, simply by redistributing the software they're already using--at no additional cost.

The shift in business model here is from software--MSFT's per-seat license (enforced by the threat of legal action)--to services. In the free software environment, the software vendor is really engaged in the business of making free software work *for the end-user*: administration, technical support, consulting, and so forth. Again, our imaginary firm above pays Canonical or Red Hat to figure out its computing needs and fix problems, rather than for the right to use software.

Is this more or less profitable than the old model? I don't know. My best guess is that the profit margins are thinner, but that it drives the cost of all software and services down. Non-Free software will have to compete either by becoming cheaper or offering less restrictive licensing terms.

Eventually, we can look forward to an environment in which Free Software competition has driven the cost of software itself to zero, or at least a point of indifference with non-free software. Then, the practical advantages to the user of a Free license (as I've outlined above) begin to outweigh the burdens and risks of a non-free one.

dabster
January 13th, 2007, 03:11 PM
umm, when was IBM at the point of dying, I dont think IBM was ever at that point.

In late 80's and starting of 90's IBM was kind of dying .... But it managed a comeback all by itself

GeneralZod
January 13th, 2007, 03:18 PM
For more info on IBM's "near collapse", see e.g.

http://www.amazon.com/Elephants-Dance-Inside-Historic-Turnaround/dp/0060523794/dp/0060523794

G Morgan
January 13th, 2007, 05:21 PM
In late 80's and starting of 90's IBM was kind of dying .... But it managed a comeback all by itself

Yeah IBM's turn around was near miraculous given the mess they had gotten themselves into. If somebody had said in the mid 90's that one day IBM would make the largest profit of any tech company in a single year again they'd have been laughed at. Yet 2006 was the year of IBM in terms of pure profit.

parker13
January 14th, 2007, 01:32 AM
That's a self-serving answer and not terribly helpful, I'm afraid.

The "power" is that it drives their development costs down, mercilessly. That translates into greater profit margins on their services and/or reduced prices for their customers.

A "self-serving answer". What's that supposed to mean? I was merely trying to point out that big corporations have finally realised the benefits that open source provides, in the same way that we have. This includes things like faster security updates. Companies like HP can put out a product like the Seagull multi-protocol call generator and see it enhanced and maintained by the community.

G Morgan
January 14th, 2007, 02:22 AM
A "self-serving answer". What's that supposed to mean? I was merely trying to point out that big corporations have finally realised the benefits that open source provides, in the same way that we have. This includes things like faster security updates. Companies like HP can put out a product like the Seagull multi-protocol call generator and see it enhanced and maintained by the community.

What he means is you responded to 'Why do they use it?' with 'It's OSS hence good?'. Or at least that's what it looked like from the outside. The point of the thread was not to respond with the power of OSS but describe what that power was.

The problem with this thread is it focuses far too much on the free cost which, as cool as it is, is a side effect of the freedom. Also people don't truly understand the development environment argument. I posted in another thread that it is cheaper to develop as a collaborative effort than as a grand institute. This is because instead of guessing at peoples preferences they become demands or people produce themselves. Also given how much easier it is to code than to design its better to design lightly, code a lot and let the market decide who wins. Then debugging is eased by the action of the community.

For most systems companies in the market they provide software as a perk with the hardware as the business end. It's only MS who differ in this respect. If IBM can get and support a cheaper alternative for use with their hardware product then they will do so.

Steveire
January 14th, 2007, 03:38 AM
What constitutes 'distribution' for a corporation? Say, I dunno - Google for example, were to use FreeSoftware™ and modify it, and then distribute it around to all the google computers. They don't release the code. Does this not constitute distribution?

FyreBrand
January 14th, 2007, 04:45 AM
I tend to conceptualize the business benefits of Free Software in much much more concrete terms. Freedom 0 and Freedom 2 are the most relevant to a business.

Consider: when a firm agrees to Microsoft's EULA, it agrees to a very long list of restrictions on the use of Microsoft software. The most notorious of the restrictions, of course, is that in order to use the software, they should have to pay for every single installation in their organization. The consequence of non-compliance is legal action resulting in harsh penalties.

Say our imaginary firm has 100 employees who have computers. Under Microsoft's proprietary model, they buy a block of 100 licenses to use Microsoft's software. But what happens if they are successful and add another 10 employees with computers? They have to go back and buy 10 more licenses.

If that firm had gone with Free software under the GPL, Freedom 0 and Freedom 2 would permit the firm to add as many new employees and computers using GPL software as necessary, simply by redistributing the software they're already using--at no additional cost.

The shift in business model here is from software--MSFT's per-seat license (enforced by the threat of legal action)--to services. In the free software environment, the software vendor is really engaged in the business of making free software work *for the end-user*: administration, technical support, consulting, and so forth. Again, our imaginary firm above pays Canonical or Red Hat to figure out its computing needs and fix problems, rather than for the right to use software.

Is this more or less profitable than the old model? I don't know. My best guess is that the profit margins are thinner, but that it drives the cost of all software and services down. Non-Free software will have to compete either by becoming cheaper or offering less restrictive licensing terms.

Eventually, we can look forward to an environment in which Free Software competition has driven the cost of software itself to zero, or at least a point of indifference with non-free software. Then, the practical advantages to the user of a Free license (as I've outlined above) begin to outweigh the burdens and risks of a non-free one.If you add the complexity of the MS licensing scheme it gets even trickier. Our college is having financial problems resulting in layoffs. I did a report last term outlining the potential savings in implementing OpenOffice.org on even a small scale. While doing the research I was astounded at not only the cost of Microsoft licensing but the incredible complexity. An organization doesn't just purchase a basic license to use the OS and/or the MS Office suite. There are tiers to the licensing scheme and it's incredibly complicated. There are formulas to decide the number of licenses used based on the number of machines the number of full time and part time faculty (and students). Additionally some licenses include MSDNAA and provide limited at home use of office suite software for business use. It is this complexity, the base costs of the licenses, and the maintenance costs that drive many companies and organizations to free and open source.

Another interesting thing I noted in the research is that it was cheaper for Sun to purchase a software company (Star Division) and open source an office suite than it was for them to continue to purchase MS Office licenses from Microsoft. [wiki article: star office (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_office)]


They are all about money and profit. Why do they this for free. There is obviously something about this I don't understand.I think they are still about money and profit. It isn't that they are just learning this lesson either, but they are learning a lesson from history. I think many companies realize the mistake that was made with closing down Unix and the Unix wars. I think they realize the power of cheap collaborative research they don't have to totally fund themselves. They contribute a portion of research and development and get to use the whole package. The savings is immense.

The money comes from selling their systems (development or otherwise), hardware, or other services. The money isn't is software sales anymore. Even Sun sells their proprietary version of OpenOffice (StarOffice) dirt cheap (around $60USD) and provides it free to educational institutions. The business model is definitely shifting elsewhere.

kripkenstein
January 14th, 2007, 07:51 AM
What constitutes 'distribution' for a corporation? Say, I dunno - Google for example, were to use FreeSoftware™ and modify it, and then distribute it around to all the google computers. They don't release the code. Does this not constitute distribution?

'Distribution', for purposes of free software licenses, is handled by copyright law. So you are distributing whenever you are making a copy, even if the copy is for someone else in your corporation.

However, within a corporation it is easy to fulfill the GPL (for example). Your source code is considered available to people getting copies from you, it is on the company servers after all. And those people are free to create their own modified versions, copy the source to whomever they want, etc. They won't do that, because it is against company policy to give the source code out, but I believe that this would be a reasonable legal argument that you are in compliance with the GPL (but IANAL).

Brunellus
January 16th, 2007, 12:02 AM
What he means is you responded to 'Why do they use it?' with 'It's OSS hence good?'. Or at least that's what it looked like from the outside. The point of the thread was not to respond with the power of OSS but describe what that power was.

The problem with this thread is it focuses far too much on the free cost which, as cool as it is, is a side effect of the freedom. Also people don't truly understand the development environment argument. I posted in another thread that it is cheaper to develop as a collaborative effort than as a grand institute. This is because instead of guessing at peoples preferences they become demands or people produce themselves. Also given how much easier it is to code than to design its better to design lightly, code a lot and let the market decide who wins. Then debugging is eased by the action of the community.

For most systems companies in the market they provide software as a perk with the hardware as the business end. It's only MS who differ in this respect. If IBM can get and support a cheaper alternative for use with their hardware product then they will do so.
The development environment factor is really irrelevant to the consumers of software. We don't care how something was developed--whether it was over the internet, or in an abandoned dzong somewhere in the Himalayas with the aid of mystical monks and black magic.

At the end of the day, we care that software:

1) Works.

2) Works cheaply.

3) Works simply.

By "Simply," I don't just mean the usual "ready for the Desktop/grandma can do it" drivel that crosses the Forums all the time. "Simply," from an organizational point of view, means that it should be very easy for an organization to implement the software. They should be able to roll out and not have to worry about licensing problems or compliance.

Free Software achieves all those goals. Most of the rest of the benefits are really tough to sell to users. What does a user who can't read a manual care about being able to access source code on GPL terms?