Open Source: It's not just cheap...

I suppose it's inevitable that when you talk about Open Source software to people for the first time the thing they focus on is that it is generally given away for free. "How do you make money if you don't sell your software?" Is the usual...

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I suppose it's inevitable that when you talk about Open Source software to people for the first time the thing they focus on is that it is generally given away for free. "How do you make money if you don't sell your software?" Is the usual skeptical question. "What's the catch?"

As people start to buy into Open Source the line changes to something more akin to, "Well, we tried to warn you that you're crazy but if you're going to ignore that I don't see why we shouldn't benefit from your misplaced hippy principles."

Open Source software is available free of charge, and that's attractive. It's easy to see why it's the part that grabs the headlines, but to think that that's what Open Source is about is missing the real point.

I read (belatedly) an article about Open Source ERP projects. The quote that caught my eye was this one:

A lot of companies are getting fed up with the restrictive licensing, forced march to new versions, and exorbitant fees for ongoing maintenance.

Not the usual "Open Source is better because it's cheaper," but "Open Source is better because you retain control."

As an Open Source advocate it may seem odd to hear me dismissing our most obvious and inarguable benefit over proprietary software as a minor issue, but to a large extent it is. The factors above are more important in the long term.

Open Source and Free Software is about Freedom from the restrictions that proprietary companies seek to place on the use of their software. There is a power struggle inherent in the proprietary software model, but who do you think should decide what you may or may not do with the tools you buy?

I agree completely that it's reasonable to pay for services that you need. If that includes paying someone to write a piece of software for you that's fine too. And if it can be made to work, I have no problem with a company developing software on the expectation of making profit on mass-market sales of that software.

Ten thousand users all paying £100 for a piece of software seems a very sensible funding model to me. The problem comes with what happens after you've paid for that software. What if after paying your money you find the software doesn't quite do what you want but the developer has no interest in changing it? Shouldn't you have some recourse?

What if there's a bug that needs fixing but the developer doesn't see it as a priority? Or if they decide that they wish to cease maintenance of an old version and have everyone pay for an upgrade if they want continued support? Short of writing off the investment and starting again with another supplier, you're stuck.

At the point that the restrictions on the software start to interfere with your ability to make decisions based on your own goals and requirements rather than those of your software supplier, your ability to function efficiently is compromised.

Open Source exists because its proponents believe that the proprietary model allows an unacceptable level of control and interference by a party whose main motivation is to separate you from more of your money.

Open Source isn't fundamentally about getting something on the cheap; it's about getting something over which you have a reasonable level of control. And if your business depends on the software you run, isn't that rather important?

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