FOSS and Drug Dealing

FOSS. Free and Open Source Software.

Many argue against FOSS saying that Developers should get paid for their work. First of all, “Free” does not mean zero dollars. And second of all, you are short sighted if you think selling code is the only way programmers are paid.

Developers of zero-dollar software get the benefits of control, freedom and experience which can outweigh any money they might make. By control I mean the ability to exactly craft the feature set and API they wish. By freedom I mean freedom from paid licensing and the whim of a software corporation. By experience, I mean that developers have a chance to contribute to a project which may provide professional experience their day job cannot; and it is often a means for a developer to get name recognition.

As far as business models, here are a few that work well with zero-dollar software:

  • Earn community respect for your expertise then make money from speaking at conferences
  • Develop paid modules, features or add ons to the software
  • Provide paid support for the software

Paid software models also work and the FOSS would not shame developers who sell their work. But developers of zero-dollar software recognize that they can personally make far more money selling other services than they can make selling the software itself.

Take for instance a no-name developer who wants to be the sole developer for software that meets a certain need. He or she can release FOSS to a wide audience where the user base is large. The large user base provides opportunity for good feedback and help from others. Then the developer can use one of the business models above.

The developer may go another direction; he or she may charge for the software. In this case of a no-name developer, it is hard to make money. The developer has no name recognition and most users will be unwilling to take a chance and pay for such software.

The problem is a situation like the rumored Oracle decision: where a company takes zero-dollar Open Source Software and starts charging money. It is like a drug dealer: get everyone addicted to the free sample then drop down the price hammer.

Wise up. It is short sighted and disingenuous to change a FOSS-based business model into a paid-software model.