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According to Mulesource's Rosenberg some banks and institutions have dismantled the barriers that previously stopped their staff from donating code. But they are the exceptions. "Most big companies are not sophisticated in open source. Mention IP, and people go 'eugh!'," he said.

Three objections stand in the way of end-user participation:

  • Your time on our dime. With so many developers working inside companies, employment contracts state that IP created on the company's time or on the company's machines belongs to the company.
  • Legal fears. Attorneys are unwilling to release code lest it expose their company to litigation in any future court case.
  • Helping the competition. Companies find it difficult to shake the belief that in-house modifications to community code gives them competitive advantage over rivals and should not be released.

So how does the open source community change such sentiments? The answer is to reach out beyond the usual narrow gene pool of vendors and actively recruit large non-tech companies.

The Liberty Alliance and Web Services Interoperability organization for example are dominated by vendors, but they also got early support from major users of IT. These include Citibank, Boeing, Fidelity Investments, Wells Fargo, the Mortgage Bankers Association and US Department of Defense at Liberty. The WS-I organization, meanwhile, counts DaimlerChrysler, Ford and Freddie Mac among its members.

What's their appeal? Helped by prodding from key vendors such as Microsoft or Sun Microsystems, companies realized they had a vested interest in participating in, and shaping, technologies critical to their success; in these cases, improved access to their services online by customers and better integration with suppliers, via federated identity and web services.

Suits not sandals

The challenge for open source is to snag the interest of the business - to make business managers realize how they can save money in software development and maintenance by letting employees donate their time and by allowing their organizations to release code that's a burden to them but gold to projects. Unless there is buy in, open source software will - at best - remain invisible in the eyes of business decision makers, and - at worse - become perceived as a quaint exercise in API geekery by the IT department.

Only by convincing the business managers that it's in their company’s best interests to participate will open source attract more individuals from end-user organizations. According to Zorro, user participation in projects and groups such as Eclipse - popular with the industry but woefully lacking in end-user representation - will legitimize open source at last, providing a broader understanding and enabling individuals like him take off the mask and contribute in force. ®

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