The ownCloud project is 2 years old next month!! Today is an exciting day because today we announce a company as an addition to the open source project to push ownCloud forward. ownCloud Inc. will offer ownCloud services and support to enterprises in addition to to the normal open source version.
ownCloud Inc. will help us to spread ownCloud and free cloud services in general – way more than we could have done without.
So why is it good for an open source project to have a company which offers enterprise services and solutions around free software?
One year ago I wrote an essay for a soon to be released book which sums it up quite nicely. Here is an excerpt of my text:
The Free Software motivation
Most Free Software developers have two basic motivations to work on Free Software. The first motivation is the fun factor. It is a fantastic experience to work together with very talented people from all over the world and create great technology. KDE, for example, is one of the most welcoming communities I know. It is so much fun to work with thousands of contributors from all over the world to create software which will be used by millions. Basically, everyone is an expert in one or more areas and we collaborate to create a shared vision. For me it is always a blast to meet other free software contributors, exchange ideas or workon our software whether we meet online or in real life at one of the many conferences or events. And it is also about friendship. Over the years I have made many good friends in KDE.
But contributors are not motivated only by fun to join the free software community. It is also the idea that all of us can make the world a better place with our contributions. Free Software is essential if you care about access to technology and IT for developing countries. It enables poor people to participate in the information age without buying expensive licenses for proprietary software. It is essential for people who care about privacy and security, because Free Software is the only way to see exactly what your computer is doing with your private data. Free Software is important for a healthy IT eco-system, because it enables everybody to build on the work of others and really innovate. Without Free Software it would not have been possible for Google or Facebook to start their businesses. It is not possible to innovate and create the next disruptive technology if you depend on proprietary software and do not have full access to all parts of the software.
The need for an ecosystem
These are the main reasons why I want to see Free Software become mainstream. To make this happen, we need a lot more contributors than we have today. By contributors I mean people who write the core frameworks, the desktop, the servers, the great applications. We need people who work on usability, artwork, promotion and many other important areas. KDE is already a really big community with thousands of members. But we need more people to help to compete with proprietary software in a big way. The Free Software community is tiny compared to the proprietary software world. On the one hand this is not
a problem, because the distributed software development model of the Free Software world is much more efficient than the closed source way of writing software. One big advantage is, for example, the ability to re-use code better. But even with these advantages we need many more contributors than we have today, if we really want to conquer the IT world.
We also need companies to help us bring our work to the mass market. In a nutshell, we need a big and healthy ecosystem that enables people to work on Free Software for a living.
The current situation
I started contributing to KDE over 10 years ago and since then I have seen countless highly motivated and talented people join KDE. This is really cool. The problem is that I also saw a lot of experienced contributors dropping out of free software communities. That is really sad. Sometimes it is just the normal way of the world. Priorities shift and people concentrate on other stuff. The problem is that many also drop out because of money. At some point people graduate and want to move out of their dorm rooms. Later some people want to get married and have kids. At this point people have to find jobs. There are some companies in the free software ecosystem that offer KDE-related jobs. But these are only a fraction of the available IT jobs. So, a lot of senior KDE contributors have to work for companies where they work on proprietary software, unrelated to Free Software. Sooner or later most of these developers drop out of free software. I underestimated this factor 10 years ago, but I think it is a problem for open source
in the long term, because we lose our most experienced people to proprietary software companies.
My dream world
In my dream world people can pay their rent by working on Free Software and they can do it in a way which does not conflict with our values. KDE contributors should have all the time they need to contribute to KDE and Free Software in general. They should earn money by doing free software. Their hobbies should become their jobs. This would make KDE grow in a big way, because it would be fun to contribute and also provide good long-term job prospects.
I think the excerpt explains nicely why we need the ownCloud company if we want to really change the world.
So ownCloud Inc. helps us in several important areas without taking any freedom away.
- Developers can pay their rent with working full time on ownCloud. Are you looking for a job? Drop me a line.
- ownCloud Inc. helps to market ownCloud in the IT world more effectivly than an open source projects can do.
- ownCloud Inc. brings ownCloud to companies, governments, schools and other organizations.
- It helps developers with travel support and other costs
- It helps with infrastructure.
The business model of ownCloud Inc. is very similar to the ones by Red Hat, SUSE, Nokia/Trolltech, MySQL, Kolab Systems and other free software companies. We will offer services and support around ownCloud for enterprises.
ownCloud is and will always be free software (AGPL) and the development will be controlled by the community on our public mailing list. So ownCloud Inc. is not taking anything away from the existing ownCloud community. On the contrary. It adds important parts so that we can make a bigger impact together.
This is why I am so excited today.