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Making money with Open Source as a developer?

I've been hearing recently that more and more developers contribute their efforts to many open-source products. Being a novice in many aspects of software development I've never thought about myself as being a member of a team that builds a product almost anybody can use for free.

But this trend is getting more and more attention, and today it is almost considered that any self-respected software engineer should have at least one example when they participated in an open-source project. It gives you a few more credits on the interview, it's cool, it means something very good, especially if the product is popular and successful. However, it seems that it's not just cool, but somehow it is prosperous business today. Not just some students or passionate enthusiasts anymore, but well known developers quit their jobs and start spending most of their time in that sector, proprietary companies spend good amount of money to support them.

I understand there are many different types of licensing and stuff. But I simply don't understand, how those developers get paid? How the companies make their revenue of it? I don't believe that behind all that is just people's altruistic nature, and they just happy to work for virtually nothing.

Can you explain me taking any well known project as an example, the business model of it?

How can somebody participate? What should you know first? How can you monetize your efforts? Is there any "guide to beginners" or "complete manual for idiots" to start with?

marked as duplicate by user8 Aug 12 '11 at 19:00

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 12 '11 at 18:08

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Consulting is huge. Just because a piece of software is open source, it does not mean it is easy to configure and/ or use. If you are a subject matter expert on something like, say MySQL, you can definitely charge to build and/ or support a MySQL implementation.

Support and customization I think are the biggest moneymakers.

  • Of course, there's also the book deals and training courses. – Jeremy Aug 12 '11 at 18:02
  • Also mysql isn't free as in freedom. – Andrew T Finnell Aug 13 '11 at 15:42
  • Yes, when it gets down to a successful product that's already very well known and respected. But before the success it has to be built. And who funds an open-source project that takes years to develop? – iLemming Apr 6 '14 at 21:24

The short answer is that there are several kinds of open source:

  1. Open source with no intention of making money - GNU, most Apache projects, Wiki, etc (and possibly beg for donations)

  2. Open source with the intention of making money - MySQL, formerly Solr¹, Cloudera²

  3. Technically open source, but not in spirit - Android³

Does that make sense?

¹ Most committers were from one company, and they deliberately didn't fix add in outside commits that fixed stuff because their main business was Solr consulting/setup! The Solr project has since been restructured due to complaints by members outside this company.

² Cloudera has their own Hadoop distribution, and they make money consulting.

³ Android has an open source license but is not a community project. All developers are employees of Google and no outside input is accepted.

  • 2
    Android is open source, but none of the manufactures are required to release source code.. and so they don't. it's kind of like... open source software without the open source community.. – user606723 Aug 12 '11 at 21:11

The majority of employees are using opensource as part of their company's work and contribute fixes back.
I have used openCV, openscenegraph, wxWidgets and many other projects in commercial products and have contributed back improvements I have made with my employers blessing.

Basically it was worth a great deal to my company to have a good graphics library but since we made a very specialist product it wasn't much of a business threat that a competitor would benefit enough from also having access to some fixes to the same library that it would outweigh our expertise in our industry sector.

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