Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “December, 2008”

The Cost of Free

Furious! This describes the response of a portion of the Dutch free and open source afficionados when hearing about the idea that OpenOffice.org might get advertisements as part of the binary package. Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems), who launched the idea on his weblog (and already retracted it), was aware the idea could cause a furor. Strangely enough, the anger seemed limited to the Netherlands.

The newsfeeds archives and the ironclad memory of internet search engines reveal that the most vociferous opposition against the idea was heard in the Netherlands. The rest of the digital realm hardly paid any attention to it. Why not? Well, perhaps the rest of the world has a better understanding that free and open can and should not be confused with ‘gratis’ (i.e. free as in ‘free beer’). In the Netherlands, a country where being cheap is considered a thing of pride, ‘free beer‘ instead of ‘free speech’ seems to be more important. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, but please refrain from making ludicrous statements like: “Sun (and others) don’t understand the GPL license (the LGPL actually) and advertisements and commercialization are not allowed under the license”. Funny, because if this is true, the GNU.org organization doesn’t understand it either, considering the article Selling free software.

It’s the attitude behind ‘hmmm nice, free beer’ that is flawed. Users of free and open source software, both corporate and private, need to consider the cost of free. Yes, developing, supporting and promoting the software is done by scores of volunteeers. But, developing the Linux kernel and bringing solid and reliable Linux distrutions to the market place also involves major corporations with commercial interests and needs. Development of the webbrowser Firefox floats on the millions made by an agreement between the Mozilla Foundation and Google.

Using free and open source software doesn’t come with freedom alone, but also with responsibilities, including the responsibility to contribute financially to the development of it. If you don’t want that and simply voice your ‘right’ to make ‘gratis’ use of the software. Well, you’d better stick to your illegally downloaded proprietary software.

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