What Is the Role of Open Source in a Down Economy?

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Making contributions to the common good is fine if you have a job, but what if you don't?


Sometimes I wonder if the government shouldn't just give programmers a free pass and, in the interests of developing more open-source software, put them on the dole.


I look around at how many of my friends and colleagues are on unemployment these days and wonder if looking for a job is really the best use of their time. Wouldn't it make more sense to be spending the precious time they have creating something that would contribute to the common good? If there are few, not enough, or no jobs, what's the point of telling people to go out and look for a job?


One could argue that there is a job for everyone who really wants to work, but if the job pays the same or less than what the person is receiving on unemployment, what are the chances of someone actually accepting it? Point of fact, a close friend of mine has been on unemployment for more than a year and recently was offered a part-time job for $12 per hour. He turned it down because the total weekly income was about the same as he currently is receiving from unemployment. Meanwhile, his efforts to start a business of his own have ended in repeated disappointments.


I'm sure many people have given up looking for work as the true unemployment rate continues to climb above 17 percent. It may be time to acknowledge that high unemployment rates are going to be around for some time to come and invite people to do something meaningful with their time instead of look for non-existent jobs or pursue network marketing schemes that inevitably lead to failure and disappointment.


Currently, there are hundreds of people with RPG skills who are looking for work and not readily finding it, according to Bob Langieri, president of the OCEAN User Group. "Getting a job today is like winning the lottery," quips Langieri, a professional recruiter. A few people are finding jobs if they are active networkers and have just the right skills for the position, but it's a tough road.


European countries have been faced with a relatively high unemployment rate for quite a number of years. Bright students in Germany might graduate from college with a good record and spend years looking for suitable work. The government's solution is to just put them on the dole—for years.  Young people spend their time in a dignified state of constantly searching for work, but there are no jobs for them. I fear the future generations of college grads in the U.S. will be in the same position with fewer benefits.


What about those people with skills who aren't working—programmers, for instance?  The whole concept of open source is one in which people are committed to sharing with others the fruits of their intellectual achievement for the common good. But what about the poor gal who spends a year developing an operating system or application and receives nothing for it? I don't know if there should be, but it seems that there certainly could be, a link made between the millions, if not billions, of dollars being spent on unemployment insurance and contributions programmers and other skilled workers could be making to society as a whole. Having millions of people out of work when there are so many needs in society seems worse than wasting food—it's wasting lives. "But there is no way to distribute the food." Right; we've heard that before, and I'm sure the same thing applies to organizing labor. Is that food for thought?


Switching gears slightly, I must confess I began thinking about this idea after Giovanni Perotti of easy400.net posted a note in the MC Press Online Forums announcing an update to Object Distribution Facility (ODF), a free and open-source utility for IBM i available at easy400.net. ODF allows for the distribution of library and IFS objects to remote systems or partitions via FTP. For IBM i systems or installations running multiple systems or partitions and Business Partners or ISVs who are providing real-time support for their systems or software packages, ODF can be quite handy.


New features that Perotti announced that came from user suggestions include distribution with a single command (ODSTR) to 50 remote systems or partitions. This feature allows for up to 10 library objects (library, object collection, or list of file members) and up to 10 IFS objects (object, directory, generic object name). You can also run up to 10 remote commands before starting or after completing object distribution.


The ODF utility also is a convenient way to run commands on remote systems, says Perotti. Documentation for the utility can be found at www.easy400.net/odf/html/page1.htm.


We're all grateful today for open-source software and the time and commitment that developers have given to its creation. Let's support their efforts by at least downloading and using what they develop and thinking of new ways to monetize program development. Otherwise, in the absence of real jobs, the government may be the only source of support.