Could a Bug be Deliberately Coded into an Open Source Project for Financial Gain?

For some bizarre reason, the thought at the top of my head last night at bedtime was… “I wonder if sometimes… open source developers deliberately code bugs or withhold fixes for financial gain?”

If you don’t follow what I mean, here’s where I was: often times, large corporations or benefactors will offer a code fix bounty or developmental funding for an open source project they have come to rely upon.  What if an open source developer were to deliberately code a bug into an open source project or withhold a fix so they might extract some financial support with this method?

I brought it up in #morphix to Gandalfar, one of my trusted open source advisors.  We debated it shortly and he brought up several good points.  While this may happen, the scheme is likely to fall apart quickly.  The community is the resolver of situations like this.  If the community finds a bug and offers a fix for the problem, then the developer will find themselves in a political combat situation.  They would likely try to stifle the fix with some ridiculous excuses and/or start to censor discussion of the subject over mailing lists or on forums.  Speculation could be raised about the issue and ultimately, people could start to fork the project elsewhere, unless the license of the project disallows that.  In the long run, the community would resolve the situation by simply offering a new solution.

So while it could theoretically be achieved for short-term gain, in the long run the community makes the approach unsustainable.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, I think we all know that closed source entities often engage in this practice.  I could point out several examples that I have absolute knowledge of this happening, but I don’t think I have to.  I’m not completely absolving open source from this either – look at what “official distributions” do in some situations… Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell (SUSE) for example.  But in those situations, if you didn’t want to pay to upgrade the operating system and still resolve your situation, we all know that with the right application of effort and skill you could overcome it.

All in all, this whole thought process ends up with a positive note about open source.  If it’s broken, you can fix it yourself or work with others to make it happen.  The community – that incredibly large, global groupthink – keeps it all honest.

Or, you can put all your money and eggs into a closed source basket and find out you’re getting screwed when it’s too late.

It’s all about choice, right?

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