These days, according to US statistics, around 40 per cent of open source programmers are in paid jobs so the question of working for nothing but internal reasons doesn't really arise. Another 10 to 15 per cent get a pay cheque from an open source company - and don't even know where it has come from.
This morning at the Australian national Linux conference, keynote speaker Stormy Peters raised the question - would they do it again if there was no monetary reward?
Peters works for a company named OpenLogic in the United States which acts as a middleman between open source projects and companies. If someone needs a feature in an open source package or a bug fix, then the company gets it done, often by people from the original project.
As an early adopter of open source, Peters was responsible for the open source strategy, policy and business practices at HP.
She examined the internal and external motivations that drive open source developers, drawing on data from other unrelated projects.
Peters cited one study where children were given painting tools and then rewarded; another group was not rewarded. Later on when the group which had been rewarded was asked to resume painting, they showed a reluctance to do so unless the rewards were provided.
But in the case of the group which was not rewarded, they showed no reluctance to paint again - they were simply doing it for the fun of it.
Another example she gave was that of daycare in Israel where parents were told that they would be charged fees if they were late to pick up their children; this, however, did not deter the parents who began to treat the late fees as some kind of payment for childcare. The penalty did not change their behaviour one iota.
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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.