Who Pays For Free Software?
Something which has puzzled me for a long time is the question of who pays
for free software. Obviously someone does, otherwise the people who write
it wouldn't be able to pay for their rent and DSL lines.
I'd like nothing more than to be able to write whatever I felt like
writing and give it away for free - somehow magically acquiring a place to
live in the process. But I have to admit that it sounds a lot like
communism and so isn't a practical possibility.
As a small business owner I wonder how I could possibly give away
software, and still send money to everyone involved at the end of the
month. But maybe I'm missing the bigger picture. The following quote
When your company decides to use free software as an alternative to
purchasing proprietary software, you should also plan to contribute some
amount -- either financially, or through resources -- to the development
and maintenance of the free software pool.
It simply makes sense -- good business sense -- to do so. Not as charity,
or moral obligation, but as a pragmatic business strategy. After all, if
your company was somehow the fortunate recipient of golden eggs laid by a
magical goose, wouldn't it make good business sense to keep that valuable
Ok, I think I get it. That model has been well-described by Karl Marx's
famous slogan "From each according to his ability; to each according to
Are businesses are making a transition to communism, or does this only
apply to software? If I release all of our components now, for free, full
source, can I go pick up a new car, a bag of groceries, and quit paying my
rent? If it's a "pragmatic business strategy" to fulfill my "moral
obligation" to provide free software then isn't it in GM's interest to let
me have a car for free too?
So what's going on in the "free software movement"? Who pays the salaries
of the people producing "free" software? Obviously someone is paying.
Excluding the few dedicated souls who work at McDonalds to pay their rent
and spend long hours at home in selfless devotion to their art, I suspect
that governments, corporations and universities are paying for the
majority of the effort that goes into "free" software. And I guess there
are some people who do so as a hobby. But the majority of people writing
free software are, no doubt, being paid to program.
Are those paying the bills doing so willingly? In some cases, for those
in priveledged research positions, that is probably the case - at least to
some extent. But I know of people who use their paid time at work and
school to pursue their own unauthorized projects, which are then "free"
for other people to use. I wonder how much of the free software is really
stolen - stolen from people who don't realize they're paying for its
In general, corporations - like people - will act in ways which enhance
their short-term interests. So it seems that corporate 'policy' would -
if they know what's going on - be to use free software but without
returning more to the community than their programmers can steal.
Where's the business sense in all of that? Where's the competition and
free-enterprise? It seems odd and inconsistent to think that businesses
would willingly embrace a system so at odds with the philosophy the
expound when it comes to any other economic activity I can think of?
And what does this mean to the programmers? My thought on this - at the
moment - is that it enslaves the programmers involved (except, of course,
for the burger-flipping artisans). In return for whatever hours they can
steal - or even legitimately acquire - to work on free software projects
which amuse them intellectually, they are tied to a corporate/government
system which in turn exercises considerable control over their lives in
Free software? Bah! I choose free-enterprise and the evolutionary
strength in competition - unless someone knows where I can get a new car
Ice Z - Straight Outta Redmond
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