Open source: Is it reaching a breaking point? [Recording]
Last month, Mirantis hosted a Cloud Native and Coffee panel featuring Global Field CTO Shaun O’Meara, Director of Technical Marketing Nick Chase, and special guest Christofer Dutz, Sr. Software Engineer at Mapped and Vice President of Apache PLC4X, an open source project for communicating with industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Watch the recording.
Below are selected highlights of the discussion that illustrate opposition to open source in traditional industries; the benefits, risks and responsibilities of using open source; and Dutz’ personal story of creating a valuable open source project, only to later cancel free community support out of cost concerns and lack of assistance from corporate users.
- Bringing drinks to the open source party
- Starting an open source project for industrial automation
- Threats of arrest and litigation
- Dinosaurs don’t contribute back to open source
- Staying competitive with open source
- Open source is not free
- Most committers work for companies that benefit
- A full day job and committing after hours
- Running a deficit and ending free community support
- The risks of not supporting the open source projects you use
- Wildfire reaction around the world
- Commercial support for open source software
- How companies can contribute to open source
- Four tiers of open source players
- Open source is a lot of fun, but more people are struggling
- The risks of working with an open source project
- Crowdfunding doesn’t work well with corporate expenses or German laws
Bringing drinks to the open source party
Shaun O'Meara: Did you have any particular expectations of how open source was going to work?
Christofer Dutz: Yeah, if I ran into a bug and I fixed it, my expectation was that I wasn't going to run into that bug anymore because I took care of that. That was how it really started. And then there was this project, which I used heavily and I submitted a lot of different fixes for and started helping out on the mailing lists and stuff like that, and sometimes I even took over development if the original author was fed up with the project and wanted to go away, do something else.
I use a lot of open source, so I'm using stuff other people built, and I was fine with that, and I just considered investing time in other projects where I knew I was more skilled or I could more easily achieve things. I just considered this my paying into the whole ecosystem. Everybody's at this big open source party, and everybody brings a bottle of drinks with it. That was me in the beginning, that was me bringing my bottle to the party.
Shaun O'Meara: So your idea was contributing through your own efforts. Because you were consuming other peoples' open source projects, you felt that you were giving back by contributing as well.
Starting an open source project for industrial automation
Christofer Dutz: When I started this PLC4X (programmable logic controller) project, I wanted to use open source because it was five years ago, all of this Industry 4.0 happening. I don't know how it was in the U.S., but in Germany everything was full of Industry 4.0 everywhere. Everybody was talking about it, but nobody actually knew what it was. But all the use cases they sketched out, they were all very familiar use cases.
It's typical use cases, similar to in the banking industry, detecting a sort of anomaly in some payment streams. There is not much difference between detecting an anomaly in some data or in sensor streams coming from a production machine. I knew there was a lot of open source out there that we could do loads of really cool projects in the industry with. But we were all missing this one little piece, this adapter to communicate with the data – with the machines out there, because Big Data is great, but if you don't have data, Big Data is meh.
I started PLC4X with the expectation to create revenue from consulting in that area, 'cause I knew I was opening the market that is just huge. That was something I did intentionally. I knew there was a need for something like that, and I believed in the potential of it. The expectations were really – first of all, bringing not just one bottle or box of beer to the open source party – but also, I was speculating on some cool drinks from the other side.
Threats of arrest and litigation
Shaun O'Meara: Typically the control systems industry's been pretty closed, pretty tight. The big players tend to create closed ecosystems because it's a great way to create lock-in, but as well, if somebody breaks a PLC controller, that can be a very expensive exercise, never mind a machine can crash, you could probably have a power station meltdown.
What was it like introducing open source software into the industrial automation industry at that time? I mean five years ago open source is still fairly fresh in many peoples' minds.
Christofer Dutz: I have two little examples to share. I was at Automatica, an automation and robotics fair in Munich. And I was there and in the booth of a large multinational company. I went to all the major vendors and I started asking them, "Yeah, do you have any specs available? What do you think about open source?" I was doing some "lobby work" approaching the vendors.
And I'll never forget that guy who at first was really, really friendly. And then he grabbed my jacket and said, "I'm going to call the police now." I just yelled at him and said, "Let me go, 'cause I'm not doing anything illegal or bad, but you just ruined your reputation, with me at least."
Another big, famous PLC manufacturer was similar. With this company, in the beginning the first contacts were like, "Yeah, if you're going to do that, we're going to sue the hell out of you." That changed over time. So I'll never forget, I was at the Linux Foundation OSS Summit in Edinburgh, and I got a call from somebody from that very company and he actually asked if they could use the software I wrote in their products.
So in the beginning it was a pretty rough terrain, but I think they are all starting to get used to the idea.
Dinosaurs don’t contribute back to open source
Shaun O'Meara: With that change in their attitude, have PLC manufacturers been contributing back into the open source ecosystem?
Christofer Dutz: Well, some of them have. If you look behind me, I have this little factory there. This device right here, that's from a company called Beckhoff; they provided me with the hardware. Phoenix Contact provided me with other hardware. Yeah, this stuff I've got over here. They sometimes contribute, the ones I wouldn't call "dinosaurs."
The companies that came up just after mankind evolved from the first puddles, those companies usually have really big problems grasping this concept of open source. But the younger companies tend to be a bit more helpful.
From Beckhoff I even got the specs for their protocols. I've got a person on speed dial that I can ask whenever I have a problem. But yeah, I wouldn't be expecting that from Siemens, Schneider, etc.
Staying competitive with open source
Shaun O'Meara: But is that because those companies are smaller companies that need to do that to be competitive? They need to take advantage of open source, whereas the older companies have already established themselves, they've already sunk the investment into the project technologies, and they don't feel the pressure to be competitive.
Christofer Dutz: I do think that they're starting to feel that, because the thing is, five years ago, in the industry, when I went to potential customers — so I didn't just go to the big vendors, I also went to the people that had a factory and wanted to do some smart stuff with that. When I approached them, and I was talking about this open source and they just couldn't imagine like, "So you're working full-time on something you're giving away for free. So please explain that."
And I think it's natural, because everybody who's in the area of production, well, you produce stuff; it consumes energy, it consumes resources, it wears down the machinery, so you can't just duplicate it.
This is where usually this misunderstanding is, because with open source, I write this once and it takes a certain effort, but I can just duplicate that. More and more companies using the automation hardware, they've learned to appreciate that open source is free, but also that it's way better than they expected. Because in the beginning I usually heard stuff like, "Well, if something's for free it can't be good."
That's changed too. And I think more and more companies are simply demanding stuff like that. Big companies are being forced more and more to switch. And also they're all trying to hire at the moment like crazy, and the big ones are really noticing that no IT professional with a sane attitude would crave working for one of those; they would rather go to any of the other ones. There I can do something. There I'm not in this corset of corporate policy.
Open source is not free
Shaun O'Meara: It's an interesting thing, and I want to go back to something you were saying, the idea that open source software is free. It's a pet topic of mine, because I say it isn't free; I say it's a free-to-use, but isn't free.
You know, it is a force multiplier, and I think that's a very important point that you made. Ultimately you write it once, you maintain it, but you can then reuse it in many places as part of your career. But you still have bills to pay; you've probably got a mortgage or rent and you've got to feed yourself.
How have you been doing that over the years whilst writing and maintaining software full-time?
Christofer Dutz: Well, I had some luck, 'cause I was working for a company called Codecentric; in Germany it's pretty well known. It's an expert consultancy. They had something they called "innovation budget," and I applied for that. It was a company internal Shark Tank, so you pitch your idea and if the board likes it, you get funding for half a year. So I managed to get that, and I started to work full-time on PLC4X, and the company was so happy with the progress that in the end it was 3.5 years that I was able to work full-time on PLC4X.
But admittedly, they didn't want to do that for just being nice and giving back, so they believed in my idea that with PLC4X we would be opening a whole new market that was just craving for the know-how that we had in the company.
Shaun O'Meara: So for them it's an investment in growing a market that they can tap into.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah.
Shaun O'Meara: So let’s come back to it's not free.
Christofer Dutz: That switched in the year 2020. While I know a lot of bad stuff happened in 2020, but that was also the year when I was cut off from this innovation budget, so I managed to get half a year of funding from European research funds via the NLnet Initiative. That kept me going on PLC4X for another half a year.
So I was planning on going – I left Codecentric, did that research project, and I was planning on doing typical consulting. I just thought with a few gigs per month I'd be able to survive. Well, then the second or third wave of COVID hit, everybody was just closing their purses again, and at that time I joined Mapped, because that company, that was a completely different facet of open source. With Codecentric it was creating a new market for consulting services, but with Mapped it was something different; Mapped needed to access data in building automation, but they didn't want to sell drivers for building automation. So this driver that exists was just something they needed to do their job.
I think that's how most committers in the PLC4X project joined; they were usually from companies that didn't want to sell drivers for communicating with industrial hardware, but they just needed something to communicate with this device that they had, so they started contributing. So open source is not only the free software that everybody gets, but for me it's more the way of sharing the work, of creating something that everybody needs, but nobody has – it's not the core business of a company.
Most committers work for companies that benefit
Nick Chase: Let's be clear here, because what we're kind of exposing is the dirty little secret of open source, which is while everybody thinks of it as everybody contributing out of the goodness of their heart because it's a cool project and it's lots of fun –
Christofer Dutz: It is fun.
Nick Chase: Well, it is fun. It is fun. Don't get me wrong, it is fun. Drive-by committers are great. It's terrific to create a project on your own and scratch your own itch, as they say. Most major projects are supported by people who work for companies who are benefitting from the software.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah.
Shaun O'Meara: I often make that statement, it's people coming on who are scratching their own itch. A huge part of open source is that. With massive projects and small projects, contributors inevitably, if they're not fixing bugs, are scratching an itch that they need to solve, and it gives them the opportunity to focus on their very small itch rather than having to scratch the whole surface of it on their body. But this analogy is going too far.
Shaun O'Meara: But I think you understand what I'm getting at, and I think that's one of the beauties of open source, as well as one of the dangers, is because people come along and do scratch their own itch, but nobody else has the same itch and then it becomes difficult to maintain sometimes.
Nick Chase: Right. And then we run into a situation where, well, what happens when you do have someone who is working on something that is not supported by any particular company, and that's where we run into the situation.
A full day job and committing after hours
Nick Chase: So explain to us what the situation is now.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah. Well, the situation was when I joined Mapped, I continued working full-time on PLC4X, but I wasn't able to fully concentrate on the most important part of the project, because at Apache we always say "Community over code." A great code base with only one maintainer is way less sustainable than a not quite as perfect code base but with a healthy community around it.
I knew I had to keep on pushing the community side of the project. I was doing my full day job, but after hours I was writing board reports. Well, that's not that much work, but I was committing – I was fixing bugs people were reporting, I was mentoring people that wanted to start contributing. I was doing all sorts of stuff, especially also implementing features that I thought the industry would be needing, and obviously they were needing them. 'Cause I still believed in this idea of earning a living with working on this project.
Shaun O'Meara: That's a great question that I wanted to ask, is how much of your personal time outside of working hours, so, you know, 8:00 to 4:00, 8:00 to 5:00, were you putting into this project?
Christofer Dutz: I would say at least another 40 to 50 hours per week.
Shaun O'Meara: Wow.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah. So that was crazy. It was crazier anyway, because in Germany we had a really crappy summer, it just felt like it was raining the entire summer. The whole world was burning, Germany was drowning.
Shaun O'Meara: I don't think it felt like it; it literally was.
Running a deficit and ending free community support
Christofer Dutz: It was raining in Germany the entire summer. Going outside was no fun, so I was coding. But at the end of the year I really did notice that if you just work through a full year with 80 to 90 hours per week (with 40 hours at a day job and 40-50 hours doing open source), it does leave a mark on you. Especially as you can see behind me, I've got all this hardware, and I need to buy this hardware because writing drivers to communicate with hardware really works bad if you don't have the hardware to talk to. So usually if I wanted to create a new driver I had to purchase the hardware for that. Mostly I also had to buy the software to set it up. So I had expenses but I didn't have any real income coming in.
So in 2020 I had one paid consulting gig where a company from Spain financed the initial work on the Profinet driver. But the thing is, if you're buying stuff in order to create stuff for free, you're running your company at a deficit.
Shaun O'Meara: [Crosstalk]
Christofer Dutz: Well, especially in Germany, the tax officials don't like people running businesses at a deficit for a long time, so I really did have some unfortunate or unpleasant discussions with them. I managed to say, "Yeah, it's going to be a black number this year, so I'm not going to be at a deficit." But if I think of how much time I put into this and seeing what I'm getting out, I'm praying that it's going to be not a negative number. It just felt bad at the end of the year, especially as everybody was shouting out, "Hey, it's the pandemic times, and we've still got record revenues." Yeah, for you guys I fixed three bugs this year. I just felt I was burnt out and I was just mad, like, "Yeah, keep on yelling out how much money you've saved, how much revenue you've won. I won't drink a beer with you, because I just can't afford it with the money that I got from you."
Nick Chase: So you made a decision.
Christofer Dutz: My decision was simply that I will stop providing free community support. So whenever a company – with PLC4X it's usually a company that has an issue. Even if the email comes from some private AOL or usually those cheap Apple or Google email addresses where you hear, "Well, I'm working for this huge steel melting plant and we've got this tiny little issue." So I just said, "Yeah, I'm going to stop doing this."
I'm still helping people fix issues – so they can scratch their issues themselves. I'm mentoring people to fix their own issues, but I've said, I'm just not going to continue investing my free time to fix stuff that gets their job better, when they're not even willing to give anything back.
The risks of not supporting the open source projects you use
Nick Chase: What should companies be doing? In an ideal world they would be doing what?
Christofer Dutz: Yeah, well, be behind open source projects – and it's not just behind PLC4X; behind every open source project in which people that are doing their job, that are working. If a project that you're using is important for your company just think about supporting the people behind the projects. I mean behind every bigger project there are usually a few companies that are willing to provide commercial support, training, feature development, and stuff like that. People should start thinking about what happens to a project if you don't support it at all, if you just keep on consuming.
I mean the faker.js guy. Yeah, he actively sabotaged his project. I'd never do that, but I have to admit I can understand the guy.
Nick Chase: Hold that thought for a second, because let us explain exactly what happened. So the gentleman that runs faker.js and I think colors.js got so frustrated at the fact that people were not supporting the open source projects that were being used by many, many commercial projects, including the AWS SDK, and not supporting it, that he basically said, "Screw this" and corrupted the NPMs so that when people updated to the latest version, it essentially broke all of this stuff. His point was, "Hey, you know what, if this was so worthless to you, why is all your stuff broken?"
Christofer Dutz: Yeah.
Shaun O'Meara: Really extreme way of dealing with it, but I do understand.
Nick Chase: We're not condoning that.
Christofer Dutz: No, no. No, no.
Wildfire reaction around the world
Shaun O'Meara: So since you've made your announcement, Chris, then what has been the reaction from these industry players? I mean again, this is a unique industry. So has there been any reaction?
Christofer Dutz: When I posted that blog post on a Tuesday, and two days later I just decided, yeah, I just need a break, so I called my boss and they gave me PTO. I got in my car, grabbed my snowboard and went snowboarding. On Thursday I was sitting in a nice cabin, going up the hill with my board, and my phone told me, "Yeah, Google said your name is trending." So I just thought, "Oh, gee, what's going on now?"
I had a look and I saw that newspapers or IT blogs all over the planet were reporting, picked up my blog post. I was only expecting my social media bubble to read that, maybe for the one or the other to forward that to the one or the other guy from a company that might be an investor, but I wasn't expecting it to go through the world like a wildfire.
Yeah, I've had a lot of people contact me from all sorts of businesses, a lot of them even really started asking questions about how they could actively contribute. Not just like investing money, but contributing to the project. 'Cause I think a lot of people didn't even think about that detail; they were just so used to consuming software because they've never been doing anything else, that maybe that blog post woke up the one or the other person.
Commercial support for open source software
Shaun O'Meara: Interesting. So what's your take on providing or building an organization to provide commercial support for open source software?
Christofer Dutz: It's definitely something that's very important. That was also the reason why when I joined Mapped, I strongly asked for being able to continue my business as a side thing, because I knew if somebody really wanted to use the software and there was no support at all, well, the thing is gone.
In the PLC4X project we've even formed an alliance with many contributors to the project under IndustrialMinersOpenSource.com. We're trying to provide commercial support offerings, but not from a single company, but from many companies that provide this as a proxy.
Nick Chase: And that's the supposed strength of open source, is that you have these communities when you have a healthy project. As you say, "Community over code," there are multiple avenues for getting support as long as the community itself is getting that support.
Christofer Dutz: Another thing I think is really interesting, 'cause in the beginning, when I was talking to people in the industry, they all asked about, "Well, commercial support. I get commercial support from my major vendor here." But when you start asking them "What does that actually mean?" Usually they said, "Yeah, well, if I report a bug, well, it's fixed." And then you start asking "So how long does it take till it gets fixed?"
Usually if you've got basic support, like you've bought the software and you don't have a support contract, well, you are free to add issues to a bug database for free usually, but you can expect it to be fixed in at least a year or two, because release cycles in the automation industry, they're just crazy. But it's like your factory is currently on fire on a Sunday and you want somebody to fix that, well, then you have to pay insane amounts of money. I think it's big six-digit numbers that you have to pay to get somebody from one of the major vendors to get into the office, fix your problem, and give you a solution immediately. I have to say, once somebody gave me that six-digit number I'd also be willing to do 24/7 support. I'd definitely get up at night for that.
Nick Chase: Very true. So I mean what do you recommend? It sounds like what you're recommending is that companies be proactive and say, "Look, this is the open source software that we use. We should look into setting up support contracts just so that we're covered. A, we're covered. B, we're supporting the industry that is supporting us."
How companies can contribute to open source
Christofer Dutz: Yeah. There are more ways you can contribute. For example, you with a lot of the bigger projects, they joined one of the many open source foundations. That’s also possible. Say you went through your products and you notice, oh, there's a lot of Apache stuff there, but not really something where I could say, "Well, I want to support this project with this amount and this project with that amount." But if you feel that you want to give something back, well, you can also just sponsor one of the foundations out there; that's always money that's put to good use. Of course if you're working on one of the smaller projects that nobody considers like, "Yeah, that's really essential." Like let's say the Apache Commons project, I think there is not a single phone or TV or whatever out there that doesn't have anything from that project in there.
It really does help to build a list of what you're using, how important that is for you, and then maybe just consider reaching out to the community, asking how you can contribute. Sometimes they just say, "Oh, well, we're fine." I think I've contacted two or three open source projects myself because I was relying on their work for my work. So I contacted them and said, "How can I give back to you? Do you have a Patreon account? Do you have anything?" Sometimes I don't even get a response. Some even said, "Oh, well, I'm just doing that for fun. That you're happy makes me happy." So there are people like that, but there are other ones that say, "Well, we could need help with testing. We could need help with hands-on work joining the project," or "Well, sponsor us because I'm currently struggling to survive, and I might have to take up a 9:00 to 5:00 job at some bank just to pay the bills."
So yeah, I think there are multiple ways.
Four tiers of open source players
Shaun O'Meara: I think ultimately there are at least four tiers of players involved in this. There are the consumers, the companies that are commercializing open source software and should be contributing back as part of their commercialization process. There are the foundations that are shepherding and helping and structuring, whether they’re opening it through Apache and others. And then there are the contributors. There has to be a flow or resources between those different layers and we need to be more open about where that flow is coming from and make sure that each layer is both being upheld to a standard.
So when you're consuming it understand that it isn't free. When you're supporting it, and when you're commercializing open source you need to prove that you are also contributing back. Because just commercializing it without contributing is I think also very much on the wrong end of the spectrum here.
Nick Chase: Or at the very least contribute back to the open source ecosystem in general.
Shaun O'Meara: Yes, but I feel strongly – I mean this is my opinion, but I feel strongly that if you are commercializing a specific piece of open source code, then you very much need to be contributing back to that open source. Because otherwise how can you claim that you can provide support for a piece of software that you have no connection to the community to?
Christofer Dutz: Yeah.
Shaun O'Meara: So, Christofer, if you were going to do this again, if you could go back to 1998 or five years ago, when you started, what would you do differently?
Christofer Dutz: I think one thing that I did wrong in the beginning was that I entered this market and tried to convince people based on proven facts.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah. I was confronted, so I was hesitant to spit out claims about problems that I was solving and how good we were at solving them if I couldn't rock solid prove them. But I was facing marketing campaigns, multi-million marketing campaigns from all different sides of automation industry vendors. And clearly what they were claiming was just fake news most of the time. And it took about two years for people to actually realize that.
I should've probably been a bit more proactive about what we're planning on doing or what we will be able to do, and not just concentrate on what we can do right now.
I would start the project again, because I still believe it is important. I would probably approach customers a bit differently.
Open source is a lot of fun, but more people are struggling
Shaun O'Meara: Any message that you want to share with the audiences today that you think is important for us to understand about the open source community or where you're going?
Christofer Dutz: Well, I'd like to encourage everybody to participate in open source, because most people think that you're giving more than you're receiving. And even if I wasn't directly receiving stuff for my work on PLC4X, you still should consider sort of – yeah, I've got a good job, I don't have a problem with finding a new job if I would be losing my job. So it's also a lot of fun. I have to admit when we go to these open source conferences, especially the ones at the Apache Software Foundation, I really enjoy just traveling the world, hanging out with people that are like-minded, seeing places on Earth that I wouldn't have been able to see without.
I still think that working for open source isn't just giving; you're getting a lot back. You're not getting a lot back in pure money, but there is a lot of free beer involved; I should mention that. I think I've had a free beer on every continent on this Earth because of my open source involvement. It makes me feel good if I solve somebody else's problem. Well, this joy has been damped a bit by the industry, but in general I'm not only working on PLC4X at Apache, I think I'm a committer in 12 different projects. In total I'm a committer in something near 20 to 25 projects, where I've got commit rights because I've just contributed.
I'm still doing a lot of stuff outside of PLC4X, and whenever I solve a problem that somebody else was struggling with I really enjoy that feeling.
Nick Chase: So let's bring us back to the beginning. Based on what you guys have seen, do you think that open source is reaching a breaking point?
Christofer Dutz: I would say not the entire open source is breaking, but I'm seeing more and more people in open source struggling and just at the brink of giving up. But I also see that the adoption, especially in this industrial automation sector, I do see that more and more awareness is coming. There are two sides. On one side there is a breaking point where I do think the industry is finally understanding to appreciate and to know how to work with open source, but if I was to decide I would definitely say they should do it a bit faster, that there is not too much collateral damage on the way.
The risks of working with an open source project
Nick Chase: Right. I mean, so the risk of working with an open source – what would you consider the risk of working with an open source project?
Christofer Dutz: Well, the risks most people say are, "Yeah, well, I don't get support." You have the risk of the maintainer dropping the project. You have the risk of there being a bug in there. But to all these risks I really have to say you can mitigate all of them, because yes, there is commercial support if you support the companies offering commercial support. So if you don't support those companies they will give up and then you don't have commercial support.
Nick Chase: Exactly.
Christofer Dutz: Yes, there will be bugs, but I have to admit, I've been using some industry standard engineering software and the bugs people have been complaining about in open source, well, that's just crazy that people from the automation industry would only start complaining about that. Just imagine those PLCs back there. I'd say at least 50-percent of them are absolute state-of-the-art devices. Well, all of them are state-of-the-art devices, but about 50-percent have absolutely no measures of preventing malicious people from tampering with them.
Nick Chase: Yeah. So just because it's not open source doesn't mean there's no risk.
Christofer Dutz: If you've got a major vendor and yeah, you get support, but it's brutally expensive. You don't even really can say if it gets fixed instantly. If the company drops the product, well, you're lost. With open source if the community leaves, well, at least you have the chance to continue working with it.
Nick Chase: Exactly. All right, so basically any risks can be mitigated, which is not something that you can necessarily say for non-open source.
Christofer Dutz: Right.
Nick Chase: So let us open up to questions here. We do have a question – I will say I'm not 100-percent clear on the point that this person is trying to make, so I'm just going to read through this and you guys can interpret it as you like.
"The core, who pays? As designer of the upcoming EU NATO cyber defense I started with the design of an intelligent backbone software protocol in order to use the end user. Now EU and NATO governments are using Docker and Kubernetes for free based on my recommendations. By the way, I built a model myself, supercomputing.dk. At least as designer I've seen no pay, although all papers were stamped IPR and copyrights belong to me. I think I have to start my own channel. (Smiley face)"
Okay, let's pick this apart. Presumably this gentleman got paid to create this design. I'm not sure why they would pick up a free cyber defense. If you're out there, please clarify for us. And also presumably these governments are paying someone to support their Docker and Kubernetes implementations.
Shaun O'Meara: I think what I'm reading here, Nick, is the core questions is he's asking who should be paying. Where is the source of the money. It's something we did discuss a little bit when we talked about the four tiers and how the contribution cycle should work.
Christofer Dutz: If it's EU/NATO, usually these institutions have forms of research funds. So that half a year that I was working on porting PLC4X to the language C, that was mainly for securing communication with industrial hardware. That was an EU-funded research fund for securing industrial communication.
Nick Chase: Yeah, he says "No pay." I'm not exactly sure how that worked. Maybe go ahead and contact us and we'll be able to have you on as a guest one day, and we can figure this out.
Shaun O'Meara: So what's next for you? What's the next big project in your future?
Christofer Dutz: I'm still working hard on implementing the stuff that we need for Mapped, because we're building a really awesome product that is using the information that we're collecting from industrial and building automation in general. For me nothing has really changed.
I will have more free time, so I really hope that we're going to have a good summer this year, because I'm really planning on using it. That's generally what's going to change. I'm going to be continuing to push the project. I'm going to be continuing to work on it. But I just won't do it as intensely as I did it last year.
Shaun O'Meara: If you look at this industry, I mean if you're willing to make a prediction about, you know, we were talking about industrial, where do you think we're going with this? Do you think the technologies are going to change and be more open sourced?
Christofer Dutz: I would say that just judging from the feedback that I got from my blog post, I found one thing really, really interesting. The feedback from German and European companies was like, "Come on, let us try this one little use case here and try it out." The US guys, they were more like, "Can I buy you? Do you want to move?" sort of "We want to go all-in." It's like yeah, yeah, not going to happen.
But it just felt like the Europeans were putting their big toe into the pond trying to see is it warm or is it cold; and it felt like in the US the industry is more ready to just run and jump into the pool and try it out. So I found that really, really interesting.
Shaun O'Meara: Yeah, the conservatism of European companies.
Christofer Dutz: Yeah, Germans, we're really good at being conservative with that.
Nick Chase: Yeah, it's what we Americans do. We run and we jump into the pool and hopefully there's water in it.
Crowdfunding doesn’t work well with corporate expenses or German laws
Nick Chase: We did have a new question, which is "Is your crowdfunding working as of now? How are your expectations?"
Christofer Dutz: Yeah, the crowdfunding is absolutely not working at all. But I have to clarify that a bit. So the amounts that have been displayed, I think it's $150.00 or something like that on all campaigns, that was actually test data; I just decided to leave it in there. So there hasn't been a single donation going into any of these crowdfunding things.
But I still wouldn't call it a loss because I think it's also something I would suggest other open source projects do, because actually naming things that could be done and attaching a price tag to it makes this idea of contributing way less abstract for companies. There are currently two companies that have already signed an agreement that they will be partially funding some of the crowdfunding projects that I have there. But admittedly when I started the platform I knew something based on donations won't work because donations don't work well with corporate expenses.
But the reason why I didn't do it as a real crowdfunding platform, that was probably a really German reason, because that was interesting. So setting up a crowdfunding platform, that's no problem at all, but the stupid thing in Germany is if it's typical crowdfunding, you have to pay back if it doesn't get funded. Well, you have to pay interest on that. That's German law. And now you're paying interest; that means you have a bank-like service and then you have to be accredited by the BaFin (Federal Financial Supervisory Authority), and you have to do an insane paper trail.
That's why I decided to go funding this way, because this way I don't have any problems with doing this. But there are companies willing to invest time and money into funding these crowdfunding initiatives, but more in a corporate way.
Shaun O'Meara: Yeah, the joys of living in Germany and the bureaucracy that we have to deal with.
Christofer Dutz: I had a lawyer check this before I started because I knew, "Gee, I don't want to be sued the hell out of me as soon as I go online with this." And he said, "Yeah, well, for this reason and that reason" I just thought, "Oh, gee, Germany."
Nick Chase: See, just go jump in the pool, man.
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