Open-Source Software Is NOT Free!

by Rick Lehrbaum

So, Free Software is not cost free. In that case, who pays for it? And who owns it? The Free Software community pays, in a manner of speaking, for the development of Free Software. And, it's the Free Software Community who owns the result.

Who belongs to this Free Software Community? It's simple: everyone who develops or uses Free Software becomes part of the Free Software Community. While the developer part of that statement is obvious, the user part may appear a bit less so. But the fact is, when you make the decision to use Free Software, you take ownership of that software, and you become a vested member of the Free Software Community.

When your company decides to use Free Software as an alternative to purchasing proprietary software, you should also plan to contribute some thing--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 goose healthy?

What are some ways you or your company can help keep the Free Software goose (penguin?) well fed and healthy? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Sponsor an open-source project, contribute financially to one or allocate some staff time to assisting with development, testing or maintenance of a particular open-source project.

  • Release some piece of your company's technology as open-source software under one of the Free Software Foundation's open-source licenses (GPL or LGPL, In this way, you help expand the base of open-source software and the number of applications it can support.

  • Develop a new piece of software using a collaborative, rather than proprietary, development process. You can, for example, solicit cosponsors of a project that will be useful to your company, using one of the open-source development sites (e.g., SourceForge,

  • Contribute a portion of your company's profits to the Free Software Foundation (

Consider how much your company is saving by taking advantage of Free Software and allocate some percentage of that amount as an investment in Free Software. No matter what form or amount you decide is right, the main thing is to realize that, ultimately, open-source software is NOT free.

It simply makes good sense to keep the magical goose (penguin) of open-source software healthy. Good common sense. Good business sense.

Author Bio

Rick Lehrbaum created the "embedded Linux portal", which recently became part of the ZDNet Linux Resource Center. Rick has worked in the field of embedded systems since 1979. He co-founded Ampro Computers, founded the PC/104 Consortium, and was instrumental in launching the Embedded Linux Consortium.

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