The Open Source idea

As open source software gets more and more popular, when talking to other people or reading about open source, I often notice that people seem to get things (partly) wrong. So I want to clear up a few major missinterpretations:
  1. Open Source does not necessarily mean (completely) free (in the sense of money costs and legal permissions).
    There are a lot of writings about free as in beer or free as in freedom or things like that. I do not find that very clear.
    The point is:
    • Some software - when you buy it - comes along with the source code. Reason: Companies (especially since economic crisis or because of general fears) worry about their investment. What, if a company fails or goes up in flames? If the customer has the source code then there are at least two options if changes are needed: Have somebody in the company looking at the source code and implement the changes or hire somebody doing that work.

    • For some software the version that includes the source code is only very limited - either in functionality or from legal permissions.

    • And then of course there is real completely free and open source software that costs nothing and you can do with it what you want. The GPL and related licenses only have the limitation that derived work must be released under the same (or compatible license) - that way you get open source spread like a virus ;-) .

  2. How can a company survive from the financial point of view when giving software away for free?
    This is the most asked question when it comes to open source in business. Some companies give away base products away for free hoping to make business with AddOns and enhancement requests. This business model sometimes is successful. Unfortunately in many cases the base products are quite useless without the additional plugins/addons and developing those on their own is often not an option for companies.

    But what is completely forgotten by people asking this question: You would never accept to pay your plumber license fees each year for just having tubes in your walls. - You pay the plumber when there is work needed (repair, put additional tubes etc)! You also would never accept to pay your haircutter a license fee (even if your haircutter declares officially he/she will use the money to improve haircutting skills). You pay the haircutter when actually hair cutting is needed.

    The same should apply for software: Money for work.
    And the idea of free and open source software is that you pay for the planning and implementation work. Once that is done, the good thing with software is, that it can be copied around. Other than eating, haircutting etc software does not go rotten or fades away.

  3. Software as a service cannot be free in the long term.
    In the last years companies offering web services or web applications hosted by those have multiplied like rabbits. Most of them - at least initially - were free. Now I observe them becoming commercial one after the other. The point here is that for the customer using these services seems to be completely hassle free. Yes, no need to maintain server hardware (farms), watch and control server tasks to be up and running etc. - But that work is now outsourced to the provider of that web service. There are at least power costs and hardware that needs to be replaced (HDs, burnt motherboards etc) from time to time. There is actual maintenance work needed and that costs money. This is different from having software that does not need maintenance work by itself. Software maintenance work is usually only needed, when somebody else breaks major interfaces - which is maybe sometimes done even with the intention to create the need of maintenance work. However, this is not the idea of the open source movement. The idea of the open source movement is more to boost innovation. But: With big open source products there also comes big requirements of infrastructure and related services. For example: There are plenty of repository servers for the Linux kernel and all the software available. There is maintenance work required for all those. So how can that service be offered in the long term? Well, I assume, that many of those servers are maintained by people who see this as their contribution - instead of paying fees, they set up a server and contribute that way. Costs less that usual maintenance license fees - and nobody pays taxes for it. :-)

Related posts: Paying for free and Open Source, The Open Source movement, The license keys, Why Linux?, Going Linux, The small software vendors, The community, Popular Ubuntu desktop myths.

1 comment:

Martin Wildam said...

Thanks to Faldegast I noticed that I did not clearly mention the different models in software business. In my article I was mostly referring to the classic model where you need to buy the product first and then pay additional fees for just getting regular updates.

Of course there are many different models.

And basically a lot of software support contracts are like an insurance - you pay a yearly fee and get problems fixed (to some extent) if they occur.