Open source is broken, let's fix it!

Open source is broken, let's fix it!

Alexander Kellner, TYPO3 extension author

But first back to the beginning. At least when I started open source in 1996. During my training as a media designer I had the chance to get to know open source and TYPO3 in particular. I was impressed by the possibilities, by the community, the togetherness and the "Inspiring People To Share". And in principle it was exactly as Stefan wrote in his blog entry a few months ago.

While you served your 40 hours in an agency, you used your free time for development. In my special case, a lot of good and at least as many bad TYPO3 extensions came out of it. A few nice things like powermail, femanager or migration have been preserved. And how happy you are as an open source author when your software is used by many others - this feeling is really unbelievable. Unfortunately, the pressure keeps increasing: "Why isn't there a new version of the extension for TYPO3 XY?", "Why is the bug still not fixed?", "Can't you add this feature? ". I don't even want to start with the "bad" response. In addition, we all have a private shift in priorities over time. Stefan has already described all of this, which is why I don't want to dwell on it any further here.

Since the majority of developers of free software first have to take care of their paying customers, projects that are close to their hearts usually take a backseat and often have to be worked on free of charge in their free time. In a professional environment, however, errors, unclosed security gaps and forced updates due to updating third-party software should be incorporated in a timely and plannable manner. And at this point at the latest, a leisure project becomes the foundation of a professional web application for large companies, and regular financing must also come into play. I totally understand the desire for paid work here. Criticism like "If the author wanted to earn money, he shouldn't have made open source" is not enough. Because as a user of such software, I also have an interest in the author developing it further and not stopping work overnight. Especially at a time when finished applications consist of a sum of smaller, interdependent packages.

But starting today, can't we just put a price tag on our free software or in our case TYPO3 Extensions? I don't think it will work that way. For years we have anchored in the minds of the users that TYPO3 extensions as FOSS (Free Open Source Software) do not cost anything. This was also one of the main reasons why my boss at the time wanted me to learn and use TYPO3. Unfortunately, we value free products far less than things we've spent money on. For example, an expensive Chanel handbag is treated like the apple of your eye, while a free bag might sit unnoticed in the corner. This is probably why many users are not at all aware of how much time and work is involved in maintaining software. A first step must be a changed perception of free software in society.

So much for my thoughts on the subject. The fact that others feel the same way is shown by the two recent events that have really shaken up the open source community. As soon as the log4j vulnerability became known, the first calls were made to question the "business model" behind popular open source software. Now, earlier this week, there was a second incident that goes in the same direction. An open source author deliberately broke two of his long-maintained NPM packages. Probably out of frustration with the lack of funding and support. And we should be prepared that these will not be the last events of this kind. But is it really true that businesses large and small earn profit on the back of free software? Yes, I am convinced of that.

I think that if we want to change something, first of all we have to change ourselves. As a company, we want to financially support even more open source and in particular TYPO3 development in the future and hope that other agencies and companies will do the same. We have done this in the past, but we keep stumbling over organizational challenges. Individual developers have to be picked out, written to, details agreed and it has to be ensured that they are able to issue an invoice. In addition to the increased effort, another problem I see is that many quiet and quiet TYPO3 supporters (and yes, of course, they are not exclusively developers) simply go under and are not on "our list". I would like the TYPO3 Association, for example, to open a pot that we can regularly pay into. Depending on the amount of support, these funds should then also be distributed in the community. If the hurdles for donations are made as low as possible, more companies and public institutions will certainly be willing to participate. Such a lighthouse project would certainly make the rounds in the open source community and find many imitators.

Long Story Short - this should work:

  • Appreciation of free software in society and agency world
  • Financial support for the hard-working hands from agencies and companies
  • A neutral body that manages and distributes these funds

How do you see it? Am I completely wrong? Feel free to message me on Slack.