Open Source desires

March 08, 2024

The disillusioning state of open source software makes it easier to see the real desires, and strength of those desires, that motivate people to write and release open source software.

And yet.

People still write, release and publish their open source projects. And not just young developers, but veteran open source developers, with no illusions left, continue to create and share new, useful projects.

People want to create things that are beautiful and things that are useful to other people. They want their skills and contributions to be acknowledged and appreciated by their peers. They want to help define how work gets done within their area of practice. They want to have the time and control to build something the way they judge best. They want to build something that encapsulates what they have learned about a corner of their craft in a form that has some chance of lasting. They want to make something good and whole and be able to point to it as their own work.

The way to accomplish these things, or to try to, for many programmers, is to build and release open source software. And, this despite all the psychic costs of actually making something that lots of people want to use.

The types of desires that motivate open-source developers are the same as those of creative people in other fields, including fields where the norms are to charge for your work and to not license it permissively. If programmers could somehow satisfy these desires without giving away their work for free, I believe most of the open-source developers would not be open-source developers. It is a means to an end.

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