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While I am looking at the mere 7 billable hours for the whole week, I can't help wondering why I enjoy developing open source software so much. A quick recap of the week reveals: making the distribution packages and testing the upgrade scripts for the new release of Mango Blog; fixing last minutes bugs encountered while testing the packages; answering questions in Mango's forums; making a new example and writing a tutorial for the soon-to-be-released Mate framework; writing missing documentation for Mate; working on the cf.Objective() presentation about Mate; preparing the audio files for the ColdFusion Weekly roundtable about Flex frameworks... Mmmh... Can you spot the pattern here? Most of my time was spent working on personal, open source projects.

I stopped counting hours spent on Mango Blog long ago, to be more exact, in March 2006. By that time I had already spent over 150 hours. And I can tell you that amount has multiplied many times by now. At my usual hourly rate, that would easily go way beyond $50,000. Could I have used that time on client work? I could've, and I would have $50,000 more in my bank account. Who paid for that? I did. With my time, energy and even money that went into them (FillColors t-shirts and postcards, for example).

I still don't know what the business model for open source is, if there is one. Or maybe there shouldn't be one and the open source community should be composed of people willing to volunteer their time to contribute to the future of mankind. And I am as guilty as anybody else, since I use many open source software that I've never paid for. The open-source-it-and-sell-support model doesn't make sense to me (at least as an individual). You spent thousands of hours developing your product so that at the end, you can sell support hours. I don't see the point, since I could sell the same hours, but doing development instead of support for the same amount of money —or more— without having to invest those thousands of hours in advance.

The problem is that I enjoy it and I can't find enough hours in the day to work on my personal projects. In the weekdays, I stay late at the office or go home to find myself working on them until midnight. In the weekends, I choose to stare at my computer —in my Cave— rather than sunbathing at the beautiful Laguna Beach, choices that don't seem to be helping lowering my stress level.

Maybe it is all about personality. It looks like I am a geek. Normal conversation with your spouse should be: "Honey, would you fix our car's oil leak?" But my normal conversation with Nahuel goes more like: "Honey, would you fix the memory leak that the listeners are causing in the Flex app?." I think this passion is in the borderline of addiction: I can't get enough of it, I get mad when I don't do it and I am starting to think it is impacting my finances.

Maybe it is all about recognition. You see, I am not as beautiful nor talented as Cate Blanchett, I can't sing or dance and I don't have an IQ that will let me to come up with a physics theory that will get me a Novel Prize. So I am simply satisfied by people telling me: "Laura, thank you so much for your help on that piece of code", or that people recognize us in conferences as the "AsFusion guys".




  1. Mark Mandel
    I totally, TOTALLY understand!

    This was one of the biggest factors in trying to take Transfer POSS. I just love writing OSS, and wanted to see if I could spend every day doing it.

    There is something so uniquely rewarding about it, and I couldn't tell you why, but I completely know where you are coming from.

    Keep up the good work, I look forward to seeing the Mate framework at .cfO, and at some point I plan on playing with MangoBlog :oD
  2. thinman


    Having not offically embraced open sourcing, I may not be quilified to comment, but since I have a extra 2 cents to spare, I thought I'd chip in:

    I often give away code, support, advice, business intelligence, marketing plans, etc., to clients in the small business area. It's weird, but I know that there are some things out there in the world that actually help folks do what they do better, and hope that in turn, will inspire or compel other folks to do the same.

    Your generosity keeps us humble! (and in your debt). So we, in turn, "pay it forward".
  3. Luis Majano
    Laura, le pegaste al clavo!!!

    I feel exactly the same way and I know Mark does too!! I find myself dreaming more of open source stuff than anything else!! Maybe we should start buying lotto tickets and split the winnings and form our OSS Company
  4. Gary F

    Gary F

    Providing and supporting open source is the modern day equivalent of voluntary work in the community. Those people don't get a penny for what they do but they get a warm feeling that they've supported a community and others are better off as a result of their work. [Stands up and salutes]

    As noble as it is the problem, as you say Laura, is a massive loss of potential revenue. Sometimes your family "suffers" with you if you can't afford to take them on holidays/vacations or buy other things they want because you've spent a large chunk of your time working but not earning.

    So how do large providers of open source get compensated for that? 3 things.
    1) Paid support for priority response.
    2) Advanced or specialist features available as a paid-for plug-in.
    3) Paid consultancy after earning a reputation for providing quality software (which you do!).

    If people have made good use of your software, particularly for commercial use, and they can afford 1 or 2 (above) then I'm sure they'd feel happy to pay for it if the price is reasonable.
  5. Johan
    My view is that open source is a strategy if:

    1. Your business case requires high adoption/volume (or a very well identified niche) and you are likely to make you money from selling something to this user base (advertising, additional features etc.)

    2. You business case is to sell services to uses of the software - customization, implementation, consulting etc.

    Other than that it is charity work but that does not mean it will not pay off (MySQL).
  6. Jason Lim

    Jason Lim

    Laura, that's the reason I'm still reading asfusion's blog until now!

    We love what do did and appreciated very much, that showed lots of people the inspiration to do open source project or volunteer work!

    Thank you and love you always from far away in Malaysia!
  7. John Barrett

    John Barrett

    Hi Laura,
    I would like to thank you so much for all you have helped me,and sharing your knowledge. All your work always inspires me do much`-`

  8. Josh

    Yup you summed it up alright. This is why some of my projects arent completed, I prioritize them by simply doing the ones I get paid for and the others just take a back seat until I get time. Unfortunately sometimes the paid projects are dull, boring, less freedom, cant be innovative, feel constrained to be creative, etc...

    Couple comments/suggestions to improve the situation.

    - Only choose projects that interest your drives & aspirations (if your business is successful enough you can get to this point)

    - Mango is awesome, unfortunately Open source projects have very little documentation and people who could contribute simply cant because they dont always think the same way as the architect. Having some docs could possibly help mango alot b/c others would know how Mango works w/o reverse engineering its core. This would let others fix those bugs ;) so YOU dont have to!

    - I cant seem to find a link to donate $ or buy you a nice gift via amazon on mangoblog.org, asfusion.org or fillcolors.com -- what gives! Surely you have a paypal account!

    - Need more ads on your sites, you seem to have a big reader following, having ads that pertain to your readers interest, such as books (related to the topics at hand), videos, tech gadgets, etc... potential revenue that could be earned to make up some of that lost revenue spent on all those open source projects you like to do.

    - Create a group to work on those Open Source projects, have a steering board, a volunteer developer group to work on bugs, use subversion and a bug tracker to document those bugs so you dont have to pace through the forums! or get volunteers to do it for you! After all you cant do it all yourself!

    Lastly, I recommend this book Laura. It is a great read and it may shed some light on how you are currently operating (and how your business might be operating) and how to fix it. It was a real eye opener for me.


    PS: Your doing a fantastic job, take a vacation and bring that book with you!!
  9. Josh
    Oh I forgot to add this:

    - Dont do open source ;) Something like mango has the potential to generate revenue. The simpler it is to install and use w/o being a CF developer the better. If you have a good idea, look at its revenue prospects before opening it up as Open.

    Take the MySQL business model (BlueDragon is copying this), open the code up but if they want support you charge and they pay. Simple as that.
  10. Kevin Mask
    ha ha hahaha ha. I am laughing out loud... I love it. So I'm NOT the only one! ha haha h ahah... You do it becuase you love it and becuase it IS WORTH IT... the satisfaction of bringing something to life! From nothing to something! We are made in the image of Almighty God and as such we all have (to a greater or lesser degree) the desire to create and you obviously have a BURNING desire to create, so much that it's worth more than $50k a year to create... I love it. I'm the same way. Only, since I'm not as gifted in the creative area as you are, it takes me more like $200k to do what you do for $50k...

    So be filled with joy that you are so creative you can do it even quicker! Some of us pay a lot more for that privilage!

    ha ha h haa, Ok, I gotta go. Nice post.