Is Money Useless to Open Source Projects?

In April I donated $5,000 of the ad revenue from this website to an open source .NET project. It was exciting to be able to inject some of the energy from this blog into the often-neglected .NET open source ecosystem.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:
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Money in open source projects may end up just being:

The real question is how do you spend money in an open source project? The last thing you want to do is cause team infighting…

If the project lead took a vacation to devote to his project, how would the other contributors react?

I think you drew too much of a conclusion of what Open Source is. And, it appears that many of the people who replied have similar ideas.

There is an idea that Open Source software is written by a bunch of software hippies who are anti-capitalistic and would believe in free love if they could ever figure out how to get close enough to a girl. Open Source is merely a philosophy that you can benefit by opening up your software to all coders.

Some Open Source projects are very large, need lots of hardware and actually pay people to do such things as documentation, testing, and even (gasp!) development.

Most Open Source developers are actually paid for their work. IBM, Apple, Sun, Google, and maybe even Microsoft pay developers to work on various Open Source projects.

Some Open Source projects (like Joomla) are run by the very people who use that software in their own jobs. Some like MySQL are created by companies that decided the best way to make money was to get their product used by millions of people and then make money through training and support.

All Open Source means is that the development team decided to make the code freely available to the world, and there is a wide variety of reasons for doing that. Sometimes it is purely done for philosophical reasons, but most of the time, it is for strong business reasons.

I don’t know much about the Windows Open Source community, but in the Unix world, you couldn’t even start coding without Open Source projects. At my work, our development team depends upon Linux, Spring Framework, Subversion, Eclipse, Apache, Tomcat, Hudson, and probably another dozen or more Open Source packages.

Isn’t this what Bill G found with his foundation - money without strings attached is wasted?

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Forget about the money. You said no strings. That means no strings. No following-up either. Let it go.

Another +1 to Dave.

Not that it wasn’t expected though. I mean, this is Jeff.

My fingers are so used to typing ‘’ I just put it as my website. Spooky.

Well now, how to spend money. hmm some ideas:

  1. Google summer of code now fall and winter of code too
  2. PAID student coding projects (learning based) We can only cover so much in a classroom
  3. Scholarships in programming (not the CS light programming , but the real calculus, physics based stuff) at your local College.
  4. Create a game contest(s) - by the new old 8(16?)bit boards from think geeks(?) and give out 30 of them to schools for a battle of the side scrollers contest with a $ or thing award.
  5. open source library of books (say the O’ books) for the first 100 subscribers? Books are expensive!

How’s that for getting code writing out to where it needs to be?

So many of my really bright students fight to find the small funding they need to go to school, and anything that helps that is good. Additionally anything that gets the students excited enough to crack open a compiler and code is a win - especially if I can get real programmers to give feedback (with the understanding that they are raw programmers, and feedback good critiques!)

Just some rambling from a college professor.

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I’d think a Safari subscription or conference trip for a key developer(s) would pay off nicely.

Other options would be to pay for somethings that they might normally do without like higher quality hosting or service contracts. Would a TechNet Subscription help? What about a dedicated server? A MYSQL or SQL server service contract or VMWare Workstation licenses aren’t free but can be big help.

Most volunteer efforts I’ve been involved in go to crap once money is introduced. I’m not talking Open Source i mean ANY organization of volunteers doing anything.

There is a reason many charities do canned food drives and not money donations. Who decides What and How the money is spent? Are we now an oligarchy, representative democracy or dictatorship, who’s treasurer, did they get elected, can they be trusted? If ANY of the other volunteers disapprove, now you have drama and major problems. It can turn a bunch of volunteers having fun into a squabbling bunch of children.

I’ve seen it in charity groups, live action role playing troupes, movie clubs … you name it. In a lot of organizations i’ve taken part in, we go out of our way to avoid money. NO cash, donate a book, some supplies, your TIME that is fine but NO cash.

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  1. Scholarships in programming (not the CS light programming , but the real calculus, physics based stuff) at your local College.

Just some rambling from a college professor.

I think I smell some bias!

Jeff, I share your astonisment at the lack of imagination on the part of the developers. As a user of Screwturn Wiki I have 2 ideas on what they could spend the money on:

  1. Hire a web designer to create some themes, the themes Screwturn comes with are appalling.
  2. Hire a technical writer to create some useful documentation. The current docs are a shambles and make installing and working with screwturn anything but easy.

Aha! So open source is the way to a Star Trek (-like?) world where money no longer has value!

Seriously though, just about any way I can think of to make money useful for a project has the risk of making that project depend on that money, which might effectively kill the project. I.e. money might not just be useless to an open source project, it might be dangerous as well. Basically the thing you might be causing, and need to look out for is money addiction (project wide).

Give it to the Mono people so .NET won’t be stuck in the Windows ghetto forever.

  1. Hire a web designer to create some themes, the themes Screwturn comes with are appalling.
  2. Hire a technical writer to create some useful documentation. The current docs are a shambles and make installing and working with screwturn anything but easy.

Actually, the problem with hiring people is that it requires time (legal stuff among others). There’s also the add more people to a late software project and it will be later principle, i.e. it will initially cost more time than it will yield. Thus the question is, will the money have run out before any additional spent time is gained?

As that’s the real problem here: finding ways to convert money into time.

Next time around, maybe you should consider giving money to projects that have a clear idea of what to do with money, and how much is needed.

There are some great ideas in the comments here. I favor these, personally:

That’s exactly why paying for transport (flights and hotels) is a better fit for an open source project - people are already donating their time, but the travel costs often make the difference between going to an event and staying at home.

Dario, spend it to attend to PDC in Los Angeles!!! Attending is half of what you have, the other half can cover the plane ticket and some lodging. This way it’s something in the middle between a vacation and something useful!

Hackathon. Pay for tickets and a place to sit for the core team if they are geographically dispersed.

Pay for travel, fees and other expenses to go to a .NET conference or two. He could improve his skills and give a talk to drum up interest in the project, possibly leading to new contributors to the project.

It’s up to Dario, of course, but I’m particularly fond of the offsite hackathon with key contributors. Putting a bunch of geeks in a room for a few days and letting them hack together on the codebase would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Jeff, I really think it depends on the maturity of the projects. Some projects are just not… capable of handling money. What to do with the money? is their question. Or they are just happy with the few donations that they get to survive (which is not bad, at all).

I’m backup up a previous comment on Blender ( It has been an open source app for several years now. And it is constantly fed by money! They even have set up a Blender Institute which - in a few words - serves as a office/studio that aims supporting projects made on Blender (for instance the newly release Big Buck Bunny) and all expenses are covered by contributions or money made by the Institute. The purpose of it is that by making things easier for artists/developers, the whole Blender community gets benefited by awesome new features… for free!

That’s putting money into good use.

I’m by no means advertising Blender (or am I?). I’m just using it as an example that some Open Source projects do know what to do with money they receive.

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I would break it up at least part of the money and send it to the projects whose software I’ve used. I could also use another server as an offsite mirror (gotta love living in New Orleans).

I might be a bit far down the page here, but $5000 will get you a student developer for an entire summer here in New Zealand.