Free software is NOT free

Yesterday I wrote this article and today I want to elaborate some things about it.

You see, free software is free of charge, but there is much worse price to pay than a few bucks – quality and cadence.

The first thing that annoys me is people that think “open source should be done by volunteers and kept free (as in free beer).”
Imagine this:
Guy X starts an open source project
Guy X realises that he is human (gee, imagine that!) and that he needs money to live
Guy X tries to make money out of his indie project and fails
Guy X gets a real life job, so he will be able to eat and pay his bills
The real life job takes guy x’s time and energy to work on his project and as a result the product he made is worse quality and gets released rarely
Aftermath – open source software gets hurt, because guy x can not work on his project full time and I challenge you to find me any open source person that likes open source to gets hurt.
This partizan way of thinking needs to go as soon as possible, fullstop.

Second thing – “if you wanna make money, go proprietary.”
That is driving me nuts. Folks, we (people that create open source software) do not want to make our stuff proprietary if we can avoid that. We love the open source philosophy and want to follow it. And then some people come and tell us to basically ditch that, because it is next to impossible to make money out of open source. Advise us to go the proprietary way, despite that they also love the open source way. Well, excuse us for being such damn annoying idealists and having the desire to actually keep our work open. Are you people that advise us to go proprietary wanting to say “Hey, I would prefer keeping you project proprietary and paid, instead of open source and paid / funded by donations.”, because that is exactly how it sounds.

Third thing – “look at the RedHat model, they make money out of open source.”
That is obnoxiously moot argument. I am talking about small projects and indie development here and RedHat is a huge company. Here is a realisation – not all indie open source devs and designers can create a huge million/billion company, infact it would be great even if 0.0001% can do that. Took you by surprise, didn’t I? Well, no I did not and you know it.

Fourth – “I will have to spend a fortune on open source if I start donating to indie open source projects I like.”
No, you will not. Lets say you choose to donate to 4 projects (which isn’t a small amount) monthly. I did a quick math yesterday and the results are that if everyone who has circled our Numix Google+ page throws just 5 dollars monthly (which is next to nothing for the downright crazy work we do) all the team (three people) will be able to make a decent living of Numix and we will be able to work full time on it, hence improving the quality rapidly. 5 bucks monthly, that’s all it takes. Which is what? A pack of fairly cheap cigarettes? Your coffee for two mornings? A small SubWay sandwich? And that is for relative new project like Numix (albeit quite popular when it comes to theming). For projects like VLC, GIMP, Inkscape and etc … the amount would be much smaller for the userbase is so much bigger. Yeah, for smaller projects the amount would be greater, but in those cases the creators of the project have to improve it and popularise it before asking for money.

Fifth – “But even if I throw money at some project it won’t make a difference.”
Yeah, that is true, your small amount of money will not, but small maount of money from every members of the projects’s userbase will make a difference. Find a fairly project you like (or like and use) and ask the devs/designers if he would want some money for his work (or even make it his job) and the advise him to ask people for money. It may work, it may fail, but even if the latter is the case you would have at least tried. To make it easier for you projects like Numix, Moka, elementary and Nuvola Player can definitely use more money.

Folks, you must realise one extremely simple thing – all we indie open source developers and designers and yada yada are human and that means we need money to make a living. By not giving us money you literally force us to get real life jobs and those jobs (an most of them are related to making proprietary software and I doubt you like this) eat up the time and energy we can devote to our projects. If we were paid to work on them full time, than those projects would have been tons better and needless to say that would have been good for open source. Full time working on a project means the products will be better and have better cadence. It is up to you if you want to use free of charge software, that is of not so good quality and released rarely or if you want to throw small amount of money at projects you like on monthly basis for open source software that is of good quality. I personally think the first is not really an option, but hey, I can not make all people actually using their brains and having some very basic common sense. Want to not keep using our stuff for free? Fine. But don’t expect this stuff to be of as good quality as it can be or anywhere near the top.

Yeah I am being brutally honest, but do not expect me to cut any slack for I am tired of so open source getting hurt because of so many great projects being kept as pet projects only, because of lack of money. We all want open source software to be of better quality, to replace the proprietary one and because the world is using the monetary economics model we need money to achieve these goals.

So, if I’ve managed to put at least some basic common sense (in your what it seems quite stubborn heads), start donating some money to indie open source projects you like and are still being kept on not professional, because we need those money to make these projects our full time jobs and by doing some actually making great products.

So, to sum it up have this picture:

11 thoughts on “Free software is NOT free

  1. I can understand your frustration. But the realities are simple: If you have bills to pay, you cannot work for free. But if you give away your work for free, you cannot complain that nobody is giving you anything back in return. We don’t live in an ideal world, and people use Free Software because, well, it is FREE. As in beer. Only very few care for the Free as in speech part. That’s the simple reality.
    Writing Open Source software is hard to do because there are no good business models around it that care for the developers. All those business models evolve around paid support, paid documentation, paid consulting. If you want to get paid for writing code, you either have to work for one of the few successful Open Source companies or you have to live with the reality that your income will come from providing these paid services around your software – which will make you even more unhappy, because you want to write code, not tech support emails.
    We all would love to spend our time exclusively with the things that we love to do and not have to worry about anything else. But it usually never turns out that way, and we need to monetize our work somehow – which normally means to do work that we don’t enjoy, that doesn’t satisfy, that is not gratifying but that pays the bills and puts food on the table.
    Welcome to the real world.

    • I am a designer, not a developer, so I don’t wanna get paid for writing open source code, but doing design. Which doesn’t matter in this situation, but I had to clarify it.
      And this article is all about choice – people either decide to use our software for free (hence forcing us to have real life jobs, hence our open source software is of much worse quality) or start having some god damn common sense and donating to our projects so we can make them our jobs, hence increasing the quality of the products by a large margin.
      If uses decide in favour of the first alternative both they (worse quality products) and us (real life jobs) get hurt, but it seems people are a bunch of idiots and don’t wanna spend small (or most likely extremely small sums) for better products. Well, if users want to be such bloody idiots, than by all means – let them be my guests, but that doesn’t help them or us or the open source in general, on the contrary – it causes harm to all sides.
      Welcome to the open source world, where it can be extremely hard to teach some people utterly basic common sense, because they are stubborn jerks.

  2. Hmm, I was expecting more of a response to my original message πŸ˜‰ You’ve responded to everyone else on that page.

    OK so the first bit of language that needs to go is ‘donate’. Most foss projects are not charities, not even non-for-profits. But alas donate is also something of a disconnected experience because part of what makes paying you to make free software important is that /I/ as the investor/funder get some small say is the kinds of things you should be doing. And that user control is /good/ because we developers can be quite myopic about which parts of our software are important. That added perspective gives users one of the Freedoms they’ve been denied from Free Software; the ability to modify. Something they can’t do on their own.

    At the end of the day, we need to be selling ourselves to users in ways that are user friendly. Not begging for donations with some hand waving “I’ll make it better somehow” gesture. But real down to earth project planning with solid roadmaps and estimations on the amount of time it’ll take. Funding should be run as a campaign and a project in their own right. Anything from grants to corporate sponsorship to user investment. They all need project leaders to go hunting for them rather than just waiting on their website with a donate button.

    • True. Thus in Numix-ville we’re thinking about starting funding campaigns and taking the project on more professional level.
      I still have that happy tingling feel that it will fail and that will not be because we’ve done something wrong, but because users will not want to give us money, because they like free, but low quality products better than hight quality products for which you have to pay a little money.

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