Monday, June 08, 2020

The idea that making code open-source won't cost a company anything

It’s been a while since I’ve heard the idea that “making {some software} open source won’t cost {company} anything,” but I did today.

Not being able to find an existing list of reasons why this isn’t the case, here are a few quick thoughts:

  • Any change in ownership requires people to make decisions and take action. Doing so requires more time than it takes to open a repository, copy some files, and push the commit. Time takes money, and so has a cost to the company.
  • The code must first be checked for the risk of revealing any potential security holes. Detailed code reviews take time from experts, and so aren’t free.If the released code risked showing a potential vulnerability to existing users of the software, that’s something the company will need to address. It might be easier/cheaper not to release the code.
  • The code must first be reviewed for IP and licensing issues. Does the company want all the code released under an open-source license? If not all of the source code (and assets) can/should be released, what should they do about the parts that can’t?Or what if the code depends on libraries or other licensed resources from elsewhere?
  • The ongoing management of an open-source project takes time (and therefore money.) If the intention is to create an ongoing, community-driven project, it will need (at least initially) some leadership and guidance. Releasing the code under an opensource license and then leaving it for anyone to do with it as they wish, is less likely to lead to a single release that continues the legacy of the original.
  • If releasing the code for use as anyone wishes, then pre-existing branding, trademarks, names, etc. must be removed or changed. If not performing such modifications before the code is released, it may be necessary to verify that anything released based on the original source has such identifying elements removed. 

“Cost nothing” is not the same as “won’t cost much.” If you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, being specific, and understanding what matters to them and how they make decisions can help build a persuasive argument.

An additional nod to Sébastien for pointing me to this explanation of turning Windows Live Writer into Open Live Writer as an example of the steps/processes involved that must have cost effort/time/money.


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