Why ReactOS leads the way with their decision to hire full-time developers

Software has become part of our lives. Businesses, homes and even individuals more and more rely on software to meet their goals and serve their needs. Recently, I had tried to have a discussion with people who are active in the FLOSS ecosystem about if and how the development process of free software could be improved in order to increase its quality and efficiency. As usual, the conservative minds within the community did not let the discussion get far. This was not the first time nor the first place I tried to start a discussion like that. Nevertheless, the outcome has always been the same.

A few minutes ago I ran across a news item about the ReactOS community seeking to raise funds in order to hire developers who will work full-time on the project. The community realizes the fact that dedication to the project is the determinant factor in the process of creating a high quality product. In their announcement we read:

This year we want to do something different, something even grander. ReactOS is quite close to transitioning to beta testing and we are constantly improving the development process itself. However for many core developers ReactOS remains a hobby in which they participate in their spare time as all have other real life obligations to meet. All of the developers are extremely skilled and every contribution they make helps significantly improve ReactOS’ quality.

For the first time ever, the ReactOS Foundation seeks to go beyond the usual small fundraising campaigns aimed at paying infrastructure expenses. We wish to raise money to formally hire as many core developers as possible, to work on the project they believe in, the project they’ve been working on, to transform a hobby into a job so they can dedicate all of their time to the ReactOS project.

In light of the significant advances the project enjoyed thanks to work done as part of Google’s Summer of Code 2011, it became even more obvious that the fastest way to accelerate the development of ReactOS is by directly funding developers to contribute to ReactOS. As such, the project is reaching out to our many fans and believers to help make this happen. Together, we can make ReactOS into a true competitor and alternative for computer users worldwide.

I could not agree more! In my opinion, paid development is a key step in the evolution of the development of free software. The benefits are pretty obvious:

  1. The current development model mainly involves people working on FLOSS projects in their spare time. As a result, it has become customary to release incomplete and buggy “stable” releases for us to debug. On the contrary, there are several companies which pay developers to work on FLOSS projects or invest their own capital on the development of a FLOSS project. Comparing the quality of the two kinds of projects, it is quite obvious that paid development results in a higher quality product. Money alone cannot produce quality. But, money can greatly help with the creation of the right environment for the right people to produce a high quality product.
  2. Usually, a Do-It-Yourself mentality reigns the FLOSS ecosystem. No matter how important the “freedom to customize” is, it is also extremely difficult for people who are not software engineers or who are extremely busy with other things to follow such practices. Donations currently do not work as they should. Contributing money to a FLOSS project should buy nothing more or less than dedication.
  3. Funding the development of FLOSS projects will preserve stability and help them survive in the long run. The users will have a greater assurance that a project won’t be suddenly abandoned or dramatically change its goals. This is very important, especially if you base your own work upon such a project.

Today, there is an abundance of free software out there. But in several cases quality is below par. Both users and developers can change things. In my humble opinion, “paid development” and micro-donations (in the form of a subscription) is the necessary next step in the evolution of the model of FLOSS development.

The ReactOS fundraising campaign‘s goal for 2012 is set at 30000 EUR. This means that if 6000 people donated 5 EUR each, the goal would be met. Quite easy I guess for a vast community like the FLOSS ecosystem. I just donated my 5 EUR. Now, it’s your turn. I’m sure this money won’t be wasted. Even if it is, hell, that’s just 5 euros. But… on the other hand, if this plan works out, it will act as a great example for other open source and free software projects about how they should go ahead. It will also be a great example for us users about how important a micro-donation can be and how much it can change things.

Why ReactOS leads the way with their decision to hire full-time developers by George Notaras, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Copyright © 2012 - Some Rights Reserved

About George Notaras

George Notaras is the editor of G-Loaded Journal, a technical blog about Free and Open-Source Software. George is a GNU/Linux enthusiast, a self-taught programmer and system administrator. He strongly believes that "knowledge is power" and has created this web site to share the IT knowledge and experience he has gained over the years with other people. George primarily uses CentOS and Fedora and spends some of his spare time developing open-source software. Follow George on Twitter: @gnotaras

11 responses on “Why ReactOS leads the way with their decision to hire full-time developers

  1. Ancurio Permalink →

    Your article seems kind of misguided to me.

    In it, you state that a) many FOSS projects “suck”, because b) their developers can’t afford to work on them besides their sparse free time.
    a) is just a complete over-generalization. Or rather, it gives off the wrong impression. In a world as huge as that of FOSS, there will always be better and less good software, just as in the proprietary world. On should not forget that aside all the usual AAA software (Office, Photoshop) given as examples, there are millions of small proprietary and usually not very good/helpful programs lingering hidden in the shadows of shareware sites.
    As to b).. you just kind of make it sound like the “spare time development” is the state of the art model which everyone employs because it widely accepted. And that is obviously plain wrong. But wait, what if you meant to say “the current way of FOSS development, although without any financial help unavoidable, isn’t ideal”? Of course. I’d wholeheartedly agree. Almost every FOSS developer would tell you they’d much rather work on their hobby projects full-time, if only they were paid. That’s definitely not an unknown fact. But then, what part of your argument remains?
    .. Simply, “FOSS needs more money”. Wow. That’s really the only point I could read into your article. And is it a new one? I don’t think I have to answer that.

    “a Do-It-Yourself mentality reigns the FLOSS ecosystem”.
    No. I dare saying most of these people would love to be paid full-time to work on it.
    Everyone is going to tell you that if suddenly VLC received donations in the range of thousands, they would immediately consider paying someone full-time. The only problem: it’s simply not happening.
    Now, let’s look back at ReactOS.. current donations: € 1,382 / € 30,000. That’s about 5%. For 2012. Of which almost half has passed. See? Just Not Enough Money. When I saw this count a few days ago, I immediately decided to donate 20 bucks because I would totally love this to happen, but at the same time, I know the chances are very, very slim.

    At the beginning, you imply that “conservative forces” have strongly opposed your idea of paying people to work on FOSS. Is that really what happened? I don’t believe it, even someone considered as hardcore as RS would never say something like that. Maybe there was some sort of misunderstanding where the other party thought you meant funds in exchange for restrictive re licensing.

    tl;dr: I dislike your article because it’s yet another “I finally know what’s been wrong with FOSS this entire time! Listen to me!” tone, while your only point (“FOSS needs more money”) has been known for ages.
    Oh, and talking about “great example[s]”: Don’t wait for ReactOS, there are already many more (Diaspora, Kdenlive..)

  2. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    @Ancurio

    Hi. Thanks for your feedback.

    At the beginning, you imply that “conservative forces” have strongly opposed your idea of paying people to work on FOSS.

    No. I do not imply that. What I’m saying is that any discussion about improving the currently established development model is usually extremely difficult to go on because some people would never let it.

    It’s not about my idea. Paid development is not my idea anyway. It is already happening in the GNU/Linux ecosystem. The difference is that currently it is only the companies that pay developers. It would be interesting to explore the possibility of users directly funding the development of the software they use and rely upon.

    But then, what part of your argument remains?
    .. Simply, “FOSS needs more money”. Wow. That’s really the only point I could read into your article.

    Exactly, FOSS needs more money. That’s pretty much all this post is about.

    It is impossible to produce high quality complex software that serves the needs of its users in the best possible way, while working on it in your spare time. Quality requires dedication.

    Now, let’s look back at ReactOS.. current donations: € 1,382 / € 30,000

    This page seems to be cached and not refreshed often. Let’s wait for a few days.

    I dislike your article because it’s yet another “I finally know what’s been wrong with FOSS this entire time! Listen to me!” tone, while your only point (“FOSS needs more money”) has been known for ages.

    It might be known for ages, but I’ve yet to see anything happening. We usually wait for a company to fund a project for us, while it is entirely possible to do it ourselves with micro-donations.

  3. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    @W.Anderson

    Not at all. As I explained to Ancurio (also stated in the post above), paid development is already happening in the FLOSS ecosystem. The difference is that those devs you refer to get paid by the corporations they work for and usually development is driven by the needs of those corporations.

    The ReactOS community’s approach and what I suggest in the post above is that projects should explore the opportunity to raise funds directly from the community through micro-payments. This is an entirely different approach than what you’ve just written.

  4. W. Anderson Permalink →

    The writer of this article is obviously very ignorant about the development processes of many “tier one” Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) projects, like GNU/Linux or any of the BSD Operating Systems, Apache HTTP server, Samba, PostgreSQL database and many others whose”core” developers work full time for entities that may not even be related to their FOSS development contributions.

    I agree that ReactOS will benefit from full time developers dedicated strictly to that OS software, but that perspective does not inherently make the project any more worthy or efficient that those named above.

  5. Christian Lund Hansen Permalink →

    Hmm, I’m not really in to all these “poli-tics” about who needs money, why, when, how and where.. but I thought about kickstarter. I’m not sure that enough people know about reactos, which is really really sad, but alot of people know about kickstarter and the projects seems to get quite a bit of attention. The problem with kickstarter is that you need a goal, and for reactos to meet the goal of a complete OS is going to take soooooome time :) but still, would it be possible to purpose smaller steps and put it on kickstarter?

    yeah, I know I’m from Denmark, so my grammer sux, but I hope it’s understandable.

    I love reactos and have been following it for years. I even donated back in the day when Alex Ionescu had some kind of plan for the money,but this time I didn’t want to donate, because I’m a student and don’t have that much cash. But this article, nomatter how ignorant, totally convinced my to donate to reactos a second time :) keep up the good work.

  6. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    @Christian: Thanks for your feedback. Didn’t know about Kickstarter. I’m checking it out. Looks interesting.

  7. Pantelis Koukousoulas Permalink →

    @Christian: I believe that ReactOS could work fine in Kickstarter but not as a replacement of this
    fundraising.

    I mean, usually “big” projects (like an OS) need 2 types of people in order to thrive:

    1) The “coordinator”/”maintainer” (the “Linus type”), i.e., someone willing to spend most of the days
    and hours in their life answering email, encouraging / cursing / testing / measuring / reviewing etc
    every contribution, thus making them (both the contributions and the contributors long-term) better
    and transforming even the “amateur” contributions into something valuable.

    2) The “focused developer” type. Someone with a specific goal (e.g., “make the USB subsystem
    of ReactOS work for the virtual USB 2.0 controllers of qemu, vbox and vmware until July”).
    This type should be mostly or completely anti-social (at least within the duration of the project,
    in order to stay free from ADD) and also completely determine to finish a specific goal until a
    specific deadline.

    Kickstarter works great for funding the second type but not for the first type. So far the first type
    is being funded by either a foundation (e.g., Linus) or by a company which has a stake in the project.

    Unfortunately ReactOS almost by definition can’t become “mainstream enough” to achieve this
    type of funding since companies know that if it were ever to become successful, lawsuits from MS
    would start immediately.

    So, at least for now, the only way is if the users would fund a project maintainer / coordinator
    (at least one) thus this direct fundraiser (I think GNOME has done something slightly similar
    in the past, but for a community manager or something, not for a developer).

    I hope ReactOS users will chip-in and we will see more progress coming from this project.

  8. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    I agree with Pantelis that services like Kickstarter would generally work better for the 2nd type of developer.

    The only problem I see with the first type of developer raising funds through kickstarter-like services is convincing people that answering emails, reviewing code and organizing things constitute a kind of job that deserves funding.

  9. Christian Lund Hansen Permalink →

    So if Microsoft don’t know about reactos the donation is safe, compared to if they knew about it via kickstarter? :D

    That, sir, is a silly remark. If Microsoft don’t like Reactos, then I should never donate :P Someday Reactos will become mainstream, and if Microsoft choses to close it down, then all of our money would be out the window.

    Some years ago Reactos had some problems with tainted code, if this is still an issue, then reactos should not take our money, if it isn’t, then there would be no problem putting it on kickstarter :)

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by the two kind of people. AFAIK, reactos consists of mostly type 1, but they are asking for our donations, so they can have more of type 2..

  10. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    @Christian: Your comment had been falsely retained by the spam filter. It took me a couple of days to notice it. Sorry about that.

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