February 23, 2001

The helping hand of Open Source

Author: JT Smith

- by Dan Berkes -

Corporations are out to rule the world -- or at least the part that matters to them. Yes, that even includes companies bound together for the purpose of bringing Linux and Open Source programs to the world. Like more traditional business concerns, these companies want you to remember them as the touchy-feely, caring corporation: Welcome to the world of corporate philanthropy.
Opinions on the faults or merits corporate gift giving are as individual as the people offering them.

"Companies give away money to make us feel better about doing business with them," offers Tom Lemos, an independent contractor from Illinois. "Hardly anyone would admit it, but I think subconsciously they would rather do business with a company that makes them feel good as consumers."

Diane Coleman, a retired network administrator living in Arizona sums up what could very well be the reason behind Open Source philanthropy: "It would behoove the corporations to give back to the community, because this is the community that gives them their business."

Coleman's statement applies just a little more when companies with Open Source business plans are discussed. Some of these companies are building fortunes -- or at least they hope to build their fortunes -- on software and services that often rely on the contributions made by volunteer developers. This makes keeping within the good graces of the community a vital part of the business plan.

Several Open Source companies can argue that they give back to the community by hiring the community. What better way to fund existing Open Source projects thant to bring them in-house, provide many coders with their first official job and a generous benefits package? Nothing garners good press and goodwill than proving this, something of an ultimate acknowledgement of a job well done.

Last week, Utah-based Linux2Order launched a different approach, something could be one of the most generous corporate giving programs in recent history. Twenty percent of the revenues from Linux CD-ROMs ordered through a special site will be donated to the KDE Project.

The fruits of the KDE Project are freely available to anyone who doesn't mind spending a little time downloading them. They're also available on an assortment of commercially available CD-ROMs; some charge merely for the material used to create the disc, other commercial efforts charge considerably more. In all of these cases, the KDE team receives no compensation for their efforts -- until now.

Linux2Order considers its donation to be an investment in the Linux and Open Source communities. Call it self-preservation, if you will: If Linux and/or KDE don't succeed, it affects Linux2Order's bottom line. It's charity that helps everyone involved.

Corporate giving as a business model was the sole province (at least in the United States) of organizations like United Way. Now the Open Source community has its very own oh-so-modern way to give directly to the companies that affect their lives the most: LinuxFund.

LinuxFund is a charity that offers credit cards giving a little something back to the community. With every purchase made via a LinuxFund credit card, a small percentage of that sale will benefit a Linux or Open Source development project. LinuxFund's aim is to spread the money around -- grants are capped at $1,000, but the organization also donates hardware and other physical assets that developers need.

To date, the LinuxFund has offered grants to programs from the Caudium Project, a multi-threaded Web server written in Pike and C, and a professional-grade digital video editing program for Linux by the name of Broadcast 2000.
This type of support is crucial for some projects.

While $1,000 or 20 percent of a $4.95 CD-ROM might seem like a small amount to those used to dealing with corporate budgets, extra cash for a small project hashed out in someone's bedroom could mean the difference between success and failure.

"Think of how many titles, decent titles, that never got past first release. They're all over the Internet," said Coleman. "And think how different our world would be if just a few bucks had kept them going."

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