Free Software is not Free

There has been some back and forth discussion on how Xen's security process sucks. Well, not quite. Though the email was titled that way, the content didn't have much to do with security process per se. True, there are technically correct points in that thread (with which I completely agree), but the underlying theme is disturbing. That thread prompted me into thinking how open source project functions. What I'm going to dwell on is not Xen project specific.

All in all, there are people that don't want to invest time and money into an open source project but want undue influence. The cold hard fact is that things just don't work that way. Making a piece of software requires a lot of work. Whatever great idea floating around needs to be implemented by an actual person -- that comes down to time and money.

So while open source projects are often branded as "free" (as in either free speech or free beer), the work behind them is not. Open source world nowadays function differently than 20 years ago. It has developed into a business model that every major project has some vested interest of some companies. Their employees act in the interest of the employers and prioritise work items accordingly. There are hobbyists working on a project but it's hard for them to make substantive contributions.

People have expectation that, since open source project is "free", they are entitled to add more work items even if they don't want to invest time and money. This is fundamentally wrong. Well, they are "free" to voice their opinions, but then developers are "free" to ignore part of or all of those opinions. The door is always open for collaborations though -- everybody is "free" to join.

In a proprietary software world, there is normally no public channel to ask for changes. But I'm pretty sure it all comes down to support contract or whatnot. I can't imagine someone out of the blue goes to Microsoft and says "the way you work is wrong, your priority is wrong, let me tell you what to do, but I don't want to pay you anything".

And I have to admit I sometimes feel upset for such attitude and entitlement. The joy of working on open source project is ruined. Not respecting the effort other people put into the project is just demotivating. And I'm not only talking about myself or Xen project specifically. There have been several instances of developer burnout. Many people also wrote essays on similar subjects.

In my humble opinion, free software projects are just not "free" as some people would like them to be. Ultimately, a free software project is what the whole community makes it. If one disagrees on the direction of a project, he or she should join and lead the change for the better.