Developing a FOSS-based Business: Five Questions to Ask: Page 3

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You should also be prepared to adopt the community behavioral norms. Don't expect automatic respect because of your business -- status in the FOSS community is based on contributions, and is earned over a period of months. Coordinating efforts over the Internet, the community also assumes the right of direct communication, so, while you may not want your CTO available to interact with the community, you should at least have your lead FOSS programmers available and active on community forums and IRC channels.

Don't forget, too, that, in the FOSS community, your business rivals may become sometime collaborators. You may still be trying to outmaneuver them in the marketplace, but, in the FOSS community, you may be working on code with them. You'll want to develop policies about how much you share, but this is one of those areas where business practice conflicts with FOSS ethics and behavior. Think of the community as a kind of neutral ground, where you can meet competitors and assist one another to your mutual advantage.

Finding other resources

These questions are by no means exhaustive -- you could write an entire book on any one of them. However, if you start by answering these questions, you should be well on your way to a productive relationship with FOSS and its communities, to say nothing of a successful business.

One place to go for more detailed answers is The Linux Foundation, a non-profit consortium of FOSS companies. The employer of Linus Torvalds, the Linux Foundation's members consist of most of the major companies involved in FOSS, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Novell, Oracle, and Red Hat. Your developers may be interested in its various work groups for collaboration on programming issues, while your managers may find its Collaboration Forum a useful place to learn more about FOSS issues.

Another useful resource is the annual LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. Although less useful than it was five years ago, when it was held twice yearly and had more participation from community projects, LinuxWorld remains a major event for FOSS business. Just walking the trade fair can be an education, but don't forget the seminars and birds of a feather session that take place at the same time.

The O'Reilly Open Source Convention can be equally useful, although it tends to be oriented more toward IT staff than executives.

However, by far the most useful resource for further education is the community itself. If you try to follow the precepts I've described, you won't be running a traditional business -- but you may very well be running a successful one.

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