Pay the Price for Open Source

Gather ’round kiddies, Uncle Cal has a history lesson to share.

comfy armchair

Back when the world was young

Back in the early days of Open Source – when Dinosaurs roamed the earth and Rasmus was a young man – there were two types of open source projects we talked about: those that didn’t cost any money, and those that gave you the freedom to redistribute and modify the code. The analogy we used was that projects were “Free as in beer” if they didn’t cost anything, and “Free as in libre” if they gave you the freedom to share with others. That was how we explained Open Source to muggles back then, and there were muggles everywhere. It should be noted that this was also back in the time when the first step in learning PHP was compiling the Linux kernel on your server.

Modern Day

Fast forward a few dozen years and here we are, Open Source is now an ecosystem, not a user group that you and five friends attend, or a magazine to which you subscribe. The problem is that most of us have stopped talking about the different types of open source, we just assume it is both. Most of the projects in our corner of the world – PHP – actually is both. The PHP license – a derivative of the BSD license – is very open about giving you freedom with very few responsibilities. Other projects use GPL, MIT, Apache, and other licenses. Each developer or group has the right to select whatever license they feel most comfortable with for their code. If you use their code, it is your responsibility to abide by the restrictions and responsibilities of their license.

Most developers who use open source understand everything I said in that last paragraph. We get it. If it’s GPL, we have to ship the code, if it’s MIT, we have to leave the copyright and name on it, etc. Most of us understand the basic ramifications of licenses, even if we haven’t delved into the dark details. But using Open Source code carries with it another responsibility, another price if you will.

My friend Elizabeth Smith said it best in her talk at ZendCon ’17: “If you use Open Source, but you don’t contribute to Open Source, Open Source will die.”

That is the price of Open Source: giving back. It is the price that some developers and most companies that make their living or profits off of Open Source forget to pay. Giving back is not a tip that you are giving back to Open Source, giving back is an implied responsibility.

How to Give

“Ok, Uncle Cal, we get it, whom do we pay?”

See, if you are thinking that, then you really don’t get it.

Yes, almost any of the PHP Core Developers would love to have you slip them a couple hundred for their time. If enough of us did this, some of them could dedicate all of their work hours to making PHP even better. But that’s not how we give back. Money can be earned. When I say giving back, I mean giving the one thing that can’t be earned and once given, cannot be replaced. When I say you need to be giving back to Open Source, I mean giving your time. For companies, that means giving each developer on your staff time to give back to the Open Source project of their choice (their choice, not yours). For individuals, this means getting involved in your favorite project. For some of us that is writing code, for others, it’s documentation. For some like me, it means writing tutorials, giving talks at user groups and conferences, and doing whatever we can to educate; to help build the next generation of developers.

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