How Open Source Software Maintainers Survive

2019-06-21 13:09:00
Mirai Ten

On the introduction page of a popular open source software (OSS) project , the author mentioned 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I believe that the author was inspired by the quote tremendously and it represents the belief and faith that open source software authors uphold.

However, there are over 1.94 trillion results pop out when I search "open source survive" in Google. Compared to 0.85 trillion results on "open source profitable",  it is obvious that open source sustainability is quite a challenging issue.

According to SOFTWARE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE by André Staltz, more than 50% of projects cannot sustain their maintainers above the poverty line ( US poverty thresholds ).

How can open source projects survive when their maintainers are unable to support themselves?

Open Source Survival Models

- Donation

The most common way to sustain your open source projects is to ask for donations. It is the simple model, but it won't take you far. If donation model works in a long run, how could that 50% of open source maintainers struggle on the poverty line.

- Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is mentioned often as a viable way to raise money and people love to see that Andrew Godwin was able to raise significant amount of money on Kickstarter. OSS are supported via donations made in exchange for rewards on sites like Kickstarter.

- Dual Licensing

This is often used by open source companies that they offer free versions as well as premiums. They hope that their users would love their OSS and pay for the upgraded versions.

- Offer Support and Services

This is also a common method of making money to offer a service for open source software users. Usually OSS maintainers can maintain and update the software for the users with a reasonable amount of service charge. They can also help with troubleshooting and offer training on as well.

- Paid Plug-ins and Extensions

OSS can be under licenses that allow the maintainer to mix an open platform with paid extensions. This sounds like the maintainer is not absolutely doing open source, but this is more often used than you think.

OSS Fight Back

Offering your product in a free and paid version is nothing new and it’s entirely legitimate for OSS products, too. In most cases, the free version is open source while the paid version is closed source. EasySoft, a company that specializes in management tools, likes this approach. For example, they offer ZenTao for free as an open source Scrum tool and more advanced versions with additional features, such as feedback management, DevOps management, etc. Donation was, at first,  used as the their survival model, but later was terminated as some users often mixed the concept of donation with that of payment and they expect the open source maintainers to do something for them. Meanwhile, ZenTao started to launch the premium versions and since then functions well and is able to maintain itself and they are able to keep maintaining open source version.


As you can see that they are approaches to maintain your OSS projects, but yet most of the OSS projects are not so lucky as their counterpart, ZenTao, is able to sustain. I would like to quote André Staltz's comment to express my belief on open source,

The struggle of open source sustainability is the millennium-old struggle of humanity to free itself from slavery, colonization, and exploitation. This is not the first time hard-working honest people are giving their all, for unfair compensation.

Long is the road of open source, and someone keeps going on.






Article Category
Contact : Renee Teng
Email :
Skype : [email protected]