Making Money with FOSS Part 3

Greetings everyone interested in FOSS economics, ok so this week NickFox has written another great blog entry with some arguments against and for my last blog entry about making money with FOSS.

fund-development-logoAnd now for my reply, as requested, to continue this interesting debate (your interest may vary), so lets get stuck in:

This is indeed true. The community itself and it’s development of software has no use for software it cannot touch. However, that said, closed source software does have its uses.

I wouldn’t deny that proprietary software has it’s uses, to the individual. It’s easy to see how it’s useful for the immediate task. What it doesn’t have though is a future. The cost to the community of maintaining compatibility, of supporting these closed offerings is not zero. Very often the companies who put these things out do not bare those costs and instead it’s the community serving the community that pays the integration price.

My point is that we must be careful, account for all costs.

I also think there will require a bridge between the two business models, a stop gap if you will. That stop gap is in-fact the FOSS community semi-adopting and supporting closed source applications.

Mr Fox may be right that supporting some commercial apps will make us more attractive in the immediate short term, but in the long haul it will discourage users from investing in and developers from making compatible or comparative software.

For instance, if flash for linux was not available, the community would have already have developed gnash to a much more advanced state. We’d have a much better flash experience than most other platforms and it’s likely that the gnash project would be a more serious competitor on mobile and alternative platforms. We might also have seen faster progress and pressure on the svg standard.

Now I’d never stop any one person from taking advantage of these proprietary offerings to improve their own experiences. But I would encourage them to also think of them as stop gap measures and proceed with investing time and money into the free software alternatives. This is more of the “Use but Pay for Future Freedom” model, rather than the OSS’s “Doesn’t matter so long as it works” and the FSF’s “It must be Free Software or you can’t use it”.

As users, if we don’t value freedom then we loose it. But conversely if we don’t value functionality, then we loose people. A balance is needed, the communication of the importance of Free Software ideals with some of the practicalism of OSS, a balanced approach that sees the short term satisfied without the long term forgotten to complacence.

there is no real competition in the market for Microsoft.

Microsoft are a monopoly, this is not a problem for the community alone to solve, but it is also a problem for competition commissions and legal systems around the world to not let Microsoft get away with it’s licensing arrangements with OEMs. Fairness won’t come about until either we in the FreeDesktop world have something 50x better or monopoly regulators start doing their jobs.

what reason does a development company have to try to change to the open source business model when they are targeting the largest audience possible?

FOSS is not just about making things available on a FreeDesktop like Ubuntu. It’s about choosing to respect your users, even if it means that some of those users will port it to Ubuntu for you. If they are FOSS, then they don’t need to really concern themselves with any of the small players, and can focus on windows all they like. FreeDesktops will take advantage of what they need to.

Proprietary software on Ubuntu will still require investment, but this time it’s static and not very future proof. It’s functional now perhaps, but it’s not secure, it’s not efficient and it’s not very stable. It’s easy to see how skype could drop it’s “Linux” support like a lead balloon and leave us powerless to stop them.

Finally, the point is while the closed source business, due to lack of competition among other things will not make the change to open source, I believe if the FOSS community were to build the bridge, they would use it.

As well as convincing users of the usefulness of using FreeDesktops, we must at the same time be able to convince them of the necessity of demanding FOSS licenses from their software providers. Just like users are already demanding organic and other valuable, non mass produced ideals. The time is right for Linux and the time is right to communicate to users, the general public, that what they buy matters.

Businesses will follow, so long as we have a way for users to buy something from a FOSS marketplace.

I also would like to respond to Simon who commented on my last entry:

Your model assumes that users know what they want and while that may sometimes be true, most of the time it is not. There is a big difference between what users THINK they want, and what they ACTUALLY want. You can see that in many forms in FOSS, for example, there are users wanting option A to be added to program Z, when what they actually want is a better application behavior (and that option A is not really necessary).

That’s very true, users have to not only be able to ask for what they think they want, but they have to trust producers that communicate why they think that’s a bad idea. There needs to be a trusting relationship and to some degree users will have to be convinced to invest in pure R&D. Purely idealistic because users aren’t that future proof when it comes to spending money.

Perhaps some kind of governmental or organisational research fund? or some website which developers and project managers can get together to get users interested in further development? I’m confident these problems can be solved if people really push in that direction.

All of this is my opinion, I would appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this subject below in comments or on your own blogs.