Free Software isn’t like free beer. There is a cost involving software development, and this cost needs to be paid. Who is currently paying this? What is the exchange currency here? I’ll take this as an opportunity to humbly share some personal ideas on the subject.
First I would like to indicate two great readings on this topic:
The first one is part of the classic literature on FOSS. Don’t take its date of publication so seriously. The social dynamic first presented there can still be found in many open source projects. It’ s a must read book.
The second one is a recent study on how big companies such as IBM, Google and others decided on a switch of their development model. Deciding on a different economic system where sharing and mutual help between companies, individuals and communities helped those companies to survive.
I would like to see more material on psychology /anthropology that helps to distinguish between what are humankind driven behavior and what is simply to survive in a new economic system. I whole-heartily believe in a combination of both. Nevertheless I will love to read some essays on that. This also reminds me of Maturana and Varela work. In the “Tree of Knowledge” the biologists explain that even some individual ‘altruist’ sacrifices in some animal species are a well structured macro survivor strategy. However that would means no frank friendship, loves and selfless volunteers. I hope they are wrong 🙂
Let’s leave philosophical discussions for another time and get down to brass tacks. When talking about Blender who is sponsoring its development? Take a look at the list of contributors of Blender 2.49 development.
The first thing you will find there is a list with companies/foundation that directly supported this release of the project. Taking the Blender Foundation out, all the other names there are sponsors in need for a specific feature implemented in Blender. The best way to see that happening was to find someone to do it. And fortunately to we all, people are willing to pay for development. This is more often in the case of orphans modules inside the program, very complex features, or simply way too boring tasks to be performed by volunteers.
Beyond that you can find a list with 31 developers who gave relevant contributions to this particular release of Blender. I try to sort those names in groups, and this is what I found:
- 3 got paid as freelancers for specific features and also develop in their free time
- 3 work with Blender once in a while, but develop in their free time
- 4 were part of a Google Summer of Code project (and maintain their contributions)
- 5 work with Blender fulltime. They mainly develop in their work hours
- 7 are 100% brave volunteers – don’t work directly with Blender. Some of them receive some donations from their sites
- 9 of them I have no idea 😉
This international blend shows that I can’t find a single profile for Blender developers. There is actually different motivations (and limitations) behind everyone’s works. I personally would love to see more and more people making money with Blender development. Don’t take me wrong: I deeply admire who has enough free time to help in the project. However an economic system where people can work in their working hours is a strong ally for robust Open Software such as Blender.
Indeed there is a growing interest in the industry for developer training. A lot of studios/institutions want to have their own in-house developers (who doesn’t? ;). One example that I love to mention is from my friends at Licuadora Studio. Their team is made of 4 members. Nevertheless one of them is a fulltime developer (not doing only Blender coding though). Diego Borghetti sits by the artists side listening to their yelling and
compliments complains. It’s defitinively more inspiring and productive than doing remote support.
So how can a studio afford that? Is this unique to the Argentine economy? I strongly believe otherwise. Their internal organization is not very different from the way artists and developers work side-by-side in the Blender Foundation projects. I must advocate in their favor though. It’s not easy to survive in the real market without the big arms of governmental founding, user donations, and artists willing to work underpaid for the eternal glory and fame :p
By the way there is an upcoming book that can help you willing to setup a studio with Blender – Blender Studio Projects: The Open-Source Animation Pipeline. Claudio Andaur is one of its authors and the person in front of Licuadora Studios. I look forward to read it. And I hope they can talk about their internal organization there.
Enough talk in this very extensive subject. I’m stopping here by now, but don’t be surprised if I get back to this topic later. I really love to see the movement behind Open Software and how the economy is changing around it. And to be part of it it’s a must 🙂 Also we should keep in mind the importance of other works such as documentation (books, wiki, tutorials, blogs), and contributions such as bug reports, tests, advocating . . .
Links and extra notes:
 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar – available to download and as paper copy
 – http://www.wikinomics.com – available as a book at bookstores and online updates in the blog
 – For more on that I suggest reading BERGER. It’s a great author on social institutions.
 – http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Template:Release_Notes/2.49/Contributors
 – http://www.licuadorastudio.com/ Licuadora Studio – very good Blender studio in Buenos Aires
 – http://www.amazon.com/Blender-Studio-Projects-Open-Source-Animation/dp/0470543132 – Blender Studio Projects: The Open-Source Animation Pipeline – pre-sale at Amazon