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Free vs. Prop. Software. Is free financially viable?

Discussion in 'Software Q&A' started by tuxfan, Sep 21, 2004.

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  1. tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    NOTE:
    Please do not treat this thread as Windows vs. Linux OR Gates vs. Stallman thread. This thread is about SOFTWARE IDEOLOGIES and not about SOFTWARES. I want opinions on this to find out whether I am right or wrong in what I think.


    I have just finished a book titled Free Software, A Perspective (given to me by GNUrag, thank you :)) containing writings of Richard Stallman. I must say I am impressed by the man, but must also add that I am not entirely convinced about the concept of free (as in freedom) software.

    It is an ideallistic approach. Very noble. Good for the society and the users, but doesn't seem good for the programmer. I have been a programmer as well as a user. So can think from both the perspectives. From a user's perspective, I will say I love GNU/Linux because I don't have to spend for it and still get something thats fantastic and better than the alternatives. I can get it from someone who is willing to give it to me. Thanks to Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman.

    But from the programmer's perspective it sounds financially unviable. By programmer, I mean a person who does coding for earning his livelihood and does not code only because of his love for development. Fulfilling my passion for development doesn't give me my food, clothing and other necessities. I don't mind contributing to free software in my part time. But can't take it up as full time.

    The financial status of Bill Gates and Richard Stallman will amply demonstrate what I am trying to say. Both are geniuses in their own way. But look at the vast difference in their monetary strengths. Most people (that includes me) are selfish. I can't think about the benefit to the society at my cost. I am not as noble as Stallman/Linus. I will first think about how I will feed myself and my family. I will think what will give me maximum monetary gain out of my efforts. I would not like to give away my code and allow people to freely copy and then wait for someone to sponsor me because they like what I do. I don't want to wait for gratuitious donations!!

    Here are a few things I feel like quoting from the book. There may be many more things worth quoting, but can't quote too much.
    1. Agreed sir that society needs freedom. But what about the programmer? What about his needs? He needs money to survive and enjoy. Why should he remain dependant on someone's mercy and donations? Once the source code is revealed and people are allowed to copy it without restrictions, how many people will pay him for it? Support and service are just a small part of revenue. For companies with small scale operations, survival on support and service is extremely difficult.
    2. Its quite clear here that money flow, the working capital is not too great and admittedly it is necessary. You are dependant on the either a programmer's socialistic ideas or a donor's willingness to donate. Financially, not a very ideal situation. Programmer is demanding payment for his efforts. He need not beg for donations.
    3. A software company has to sell T-shirts to earn!! It has to rely on donations!!! Is it what programmer's want?
    4. Does this mean that 85% activity towards non-free software is an acceptable norm and it is necessary for survival?
    5. If a day comes when a programmer cannot claim copyright on the software he has created and has to make it free (as in freedom), how many programmers will still put in 100%? Even as of now, out of all the contributors to the free software, how many are actually doing it full time? If programmers see low revenues, won't they lose motivation? Will that not reduce the pace of R & D? Will that be beneficial to society?
    6. Admittedly, these are idealistic principles. Can't expect everyone to be as selfless and noble as Stallman.

    Let's put all other arguments aside. Just concentrate on the economic fallout from a programmer's point of view. Does he earn his livelihood or enough returns on his efforts if he decides give a free (as in freedom) software? Free software theory sounds more like communist ideas - everything for the society and nothing (or hardly anything) for your own benefit. Proprietory software sounds more like capitalism. Communism sounds great, but at how many places in the world has it survived?

    Those who want to earn prefer capitalism, those who have to spend prefer communalism. As a software user, I would love to use free software because I can even get it without spending. But as a full time commercial programmer, I wouldn't like to give away my source code for free. Opening out source for mass reviewing (and holding back copyright) still seems somewhat acceptable, but always releasing it under GNU GPL seems unviable.

    I can't remain dependant on donations in spite of putting in so much efforts. I can give a part of my time towards free software, but not entire time. I will have to resort to proprietory software for survival. Even still as of now there are companies like SuSE, Red Hat, Mandrake, etc. who are financially doing good on free software, but is everything they dish out truly free?

    PS : My gut feeling says Linus wouldn't have released the kernel under GNU GPL if he would have felt that he is sitting on something big. He needed people to try it out, he needed contributions and thats why had to open it up. He wasn't that confident. As regards Stallman, he would have released everything irrespective of its financial gain. He seems too selfless.
     
  2. DKant

    DKant New Member

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    First up, I must say..a thought provoking post after a long time.

    Secondly, an ideal is an ideal only if it can be brought out of the texbooks, otherwise, it is plain unrealistic, and boils down to day-dreaming. This is a general comment and doesn't directly relate to the Free vs Proprietary debate.

    Thirdly, Communism wasn't(note the tense ;) ) a great idea. It fell, and failed primarily because it was a very very bad idea. Saying that "The better you work the more you work." just doesn't cut. COmmunism also says that "You get what you need." Well, say I need a PS2 right now (just an example ;) ). As per the laws of communism, I should rely on contributions from others to buy it. In other words, by needing the PS2, I develop a right to acquire it. This very idea is repulsive and shockingly foolish. Capitalism on the other hand promises me that I shall get the rewards for my work, and it is only by working that I shall procure the means to buy my comfort and satisfy my needs, and not by merely wishing.

    Thirdly, since we have agreed (;) ) that capitalism is the way to go, most certainly..I must be paid for my work. However, the trick lies in passing on this cost in an efficient manner to the user. To do this one must clearly identify the target group. If my program will help lay users use computers in an efficient way, then it must be priced accordingly. If the lay user wouldn't need, and probably not know to use certain power features (which naturally required a lot more effort to code), I can chop off these features without any harm to anyone. Though this is not something we like, but it is inevitable. Can you get a Chevrolet Optra for 1 lac? Obviously not. We object to high priced software, primarily because it takes nothing to create another copy. On the other hand, you'll need a lot of effort and money to create a replica of an Optra, that performs as well!!

    Therefore, the corporate market, which can pay adequately for the services it uses, must act as the sponge for absorbing the impact that reducing the prices in the lay-user segment would have.

    At the same time, there are developers in the early stages of their careers (read students) who only want to experiment and learn with various coding tools (for example), and not build software that would actually be distributed for commercial purposes. So, companies like..say..Microsoft could distribute coding tools and other tools for free, while tying up their product with whatever software that's built using these tools. So, when the programmer derives commercial benefit out of the software he builds using these tools, he will owe a certain pre-determined portion of the money that he earns to ..say.. Microsoft. By distributing this cost among all the copies sold, revenue can be upped, while reducing the burden on the end-user.

    Well there may be certain concerns regarding misuse of the free coding tools. But these can be addressed, by adding a read-only signature of the coding tool used to the code written by the programmer. This signature/key will require all users to compulsorily register online b4 using the product. If this product is being distributed wiht the consent of the "Company that created the coding tool", then a key tagged with the unique Product ID will be generated, with which the user can start working on the product. OTOH, if this product is being distributed without the consent of the "Company that..." then the key can't be generated and hence the product can't be used. This will effectively kill piracy as well. :)

    What we are, and should be talking about therefore, is "Reasonably priced software" - aka the middle path. :)
     
  3. netcracker

    netcracker New Member

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    I think what DKant is saying is correct :)
    opensource can never succeed if it is totaly free.Ther has to be a balance between opensource and copyrighted softwares . If this is the era of open source then I am doomed :cry: ,since I want to become a programmer and I don't want to be at the mercy of other people :!: :!:
     
  4. svenkat83

    svenkat83 New Member

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    Nice post !!! :)
    I too like Stallman..but u see,money matters more than anything in Software field! Anyday Microsoft can risk investing a billion dollar in a new concept while no one in opensource will take that risk.

    Thats just one of my opinions..I don't have time to put all my points here but lemme say one thing there is nothing that comes close to Commerial product and when even that comes free(thats the case for most of us) you can't complain!!! :D
     
  5. icecoolz

    icecoolz Active Member

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    I dont know if open source is such a bad idea from a programmer perspective. If not for open source the we wouldnt have the java program which is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, in the world. Based on the language several other products which are open source is now available and very popular. For Java IDE's there Eclipse and NetBeans and from the Application server side of it theres JBOSS which has been implemented in many large orgs. I know this from personal experience. Also nowadays with the economy being the way it is open source is being looked at and implemented as serious alternative. Now from a programmers perspective, those who want to build the tools will always receive funding if their ideas are competetive enough. I dont know if you guys know of a company called July systems based in Bangalore. They are into developing complete soultions for the mobile world. It was also featured in one of the magazines (Business World I think) as one of the top upcoming companies. Its running purely on VC funding. And the programmers get paid. And they are using only open source software (Java, Apache tomcat and JBOSS) for their development purposes. I think defenitely from a programmers perspective would have to be to think the following things:

    Is my idea good enough ?
    How do I market it to gain the funding I will need to develop it ?

    Open source for me will provide the backbone which will allow me to develop software catering to specific needs. I dont see how from a programmers perspective they will be loosing income either way.
     
  6. walking-techie

    walking-techie New Member

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    a very nice discussiona going on here..
     
  7. walking-techie

    walking-techie New Member

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    However tuxfan i believe u r a bit misguided..

    here the issue is not whther the software shuld be made free to all.. but the real issue is to make the software code free so that target users can see what their beloved program is made.. but while giving out the code with the software it doesnt mean that the programmer is going empty handed.. the code needs to be given so that end users can make the software work as they require it..
    also the original person who developed it may not go empty handed.. becos he can charge u for the software he developed.. the code he gives u as a bonus so that iothers can share his work and personalise it or make iit more efficient or diversify it!!

    also recognition is what the programmer gets when he develops an open-source program..

    i persnally believe its a wonderful concept..
     
  8. firewall

    firewall New Member

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  9. OP
    OP
    tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    Have saved this page and also the link given by firewall. Will read both after going offline and then post my reply. I am on a dialup, you see :(
     
  10. gamefreak14

    gamefreak14 New Member

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    Free software. I don't know why that has to be taken seriously. The benefits of free software does not stand a chance against the Redmond Giant and the likes. However, opensource threatens to seriously cut them down to size. Why discuss about 'free software' when we can compete with competitvely priced software? Everyone knows why linux is not newbie friendly. That can be taken care of, if there weren't a dozen distributions for it. If it was priced at around half the price of windows, there would be far more dedicated programmers and the rest of the honchos would have to seriously reconsider their marketing strategy. Competitive pricing coupled with good documentation and tech support will choke rampant piracy. Now since it's free, it's unfriendly and is fine tuned for geeks. The concept of free software is brilliant only to a certain extent. But when it comes down to the basics, where it matters the most, it loses ground due to it's nature itself. Free isn't always good. The incentive to better your work, to put more effort and finetune your creation depends on capital alone. What Richard Stallman's forgetting is that free software provides a great platform. Ultimately, the winner is the consumer. And what does the consumer say? "Who cares about the programmer?". He'd never say that if he paid for it.
    Btw, tuxfan, that was a brilliant post.
     
  11. OP
    OP
    tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    Thank you for appreciating my post. But first up, let me make one thing clear. By free software, I don't mean freeware. Free means the software released under GNU/GPL licence with its source code open plus some other permissions. Absence or presence of monetary costs is not the criteria. Please see the definition of free software on http://www.gnu.org. For clarity, I would use a new term for this and call it freedomware. In short freeware is not same as freedomware.

    • You have not got me right. The programmers who use java to make applications are actually users of java. The people who made java (sun in this case) is the programmer when we talk about java. As I said earlier, free (freeware) software is great for users i.e. java programmers in this case.
    • So even if I have a great idea, I will have to wait for some gratuitious funding? I will have to wait for some VC's mercy!! And what about small time programmers? There are plenty of them. Just take a look at my example below. What happens to a mediocre idea and a medicore programmer who can earn at least a little from his small softwares? Should he join some big bull or get away from the profession?
    • I agree, opening the source is for the benefit of the user. But here the question is about programmer's benefit.
    • All softwares released under GNU GPL (freedomware) are not only open source. You are even allowed to share it with any one you want. So if you have a copy of a GNU GPL software, you can give it to me and every other person without paying anything to the main programmer. This permission to freely distribute could pinch the programmer of that software. And recognition won't provide me my daily bread and butter. Will it?

    Here's an example. We here assume that there is no piracy or that it is well copy-protected.
    firewall, I have read that thread even earlier. In very short, there you have give the main source of revenue for freedomware as
    1. Customisation
    2. AMC/Support/Service
    3. Telephone Support (per call/per min)
    4. Training Classes

    Will any of these, except customisation, work in the given example? If the PIM is so complicated that its needs training or support, BLiS won't find customers. Secondly, should it deliberately not add all the features so that it can offer feature addition (or customisation) at a cost?
     
  12. GNUrag

    GNUrag FooBar Guy

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    Hello tuxfan... many people and you have posted such long comments, and i'm not in a position to read everything... however quickly i'd make some points of mine...

    First of all... let me tell you all, tuxfan is a professional advocate... and it seems to me that he has read that book from cover to cover as if it were some law-book on indian penal code!!! what say tuxfan ????

    The idea of Free Software, is a bit broader one... it not only covers the source code of a particular technology, but it also includes Open Standards, Freedom of Knowledge (what you read about the Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia )

    See, the most important of all, Open Standards if the thing that we should go in for... even if that means we have to pay someone... but if you are locked with a particular format/technology/solution, then you are at the mercy of that company... what if it goes into an arm twisting strategy ?

    Lets take the best of the best example of open standards... The TCP/IP... i.e. The World wide web .... the TCP/IP network protocols and the entire networking stack was written by the guys at Berkeley University... That's why we all are here on this forum discussing on various topics.... Berleley has long been a giant writing all the Free Software and distributing them... IBM and other giants also had their own standards, but their technology never made it....

    maybe I'll add more .... when i get to sit on broadband .... rightnow on telephone...
     
  13. BONZI

    BONZI New Member

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    Nice info


    Youre right. I'm not of the opinion that softwares under FSF should be made free. In the case of linux we only have a few distros that are free. The programmer must get paid for what he does (otherwise how is he gonna live?) . Copyright is actually taking away the rights of the users. making a software open dosent mean that you cannot make money out of it. If an individual who has no background on programming gets the source what is he gonna do with it. Even if it is given to a commercial business will that company be compiling and using it without proper guarentee of security. Actually redhat is making a lot of money this way.

    FSF has helped programmers in a big way because otherwise we would have only access to toy softwares (like tic tac toe). Then if you say it will not be a success then I wont agree with you because just remember the whole of the linux started with a kernel. Gut now thousands are ppl are onto it making it better and better.

    ALL LONG POSTS :(
     
  14. gxsaurav

    gxsaurav Guest

    This is the same thing I said months ago in that Windows Vs unix thread where me & tuxfan had a battle

    If a software is free & open source, how o U think the compony will make the money, they won't be able to licence it or sell, their idea & code will be free & no profit
     
  15. OP
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    tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    Battle!! :shock: Call it arguments :D Anyway, I don't even remember that and I am somewhat more enlightened on the topic now, thanks to GNUrag's book. So raised some doubts that I had after reading it.

    For a user, Open Standards are the best thing to do. They must use that as much as they can. No doubt about it. But my concern is for the programmer. You yourself are an upcoming IT professional. Tell me where will you make more money. In releasing all your software as Free (freedomware) software or keeping it closed source and proprietory? If you keep thinking about the society and release all the software as free, how will make a living? Will any of the Free Software advocate/extremists come and look after you in your old age? At that time what will help you is the money that you have.

    Yes I have done that :D Once I take up a thing in my hand, I do it whole-heartedly. I have not only read it, but also analysed it mentally from different perspective. Stallman comes across as a great visionary. His writings can't be read like a novel. Needs analysis for better understanding. That is why it took me so long to read it :)

    Then do what I do. Save the page and disconnect. Read it at your own time, write your post, connect and post. :)

    But once you pay for a copy, you can legally make as many copies as you want!! That to without paying the original company!! That is what is called "co-operation" by Stallman.
     
  16. GNUrag

    GNUrag FooBar Guy

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    Allright... Let me tell you one thing... Free Software movement has been there for two decades right... we've seen millions of programmers helping build their community right .... Since the development is already going on with such a pace then why is there any reason to worry...

    Let me tell you.... the biggest contribution that comes to this society is in the form of university programmers and students instead of individual programmers.... As i said, students of berkeley, MIT, and others have been the biggest contributors... most of the people are not full time programmers and have other things to do in life...

    Anyways dont go to America for all those examples... i'll give you some from india also... Karunakar G. who has been an activist at Bombay LUG... did GNOME localization for his college project... after his college he got more contracts.... Right now he got an offer from Government of Bhutan to localize GNOME for Bhutanese language also.... Sayamindu ... who was behind the Ankur Bangla Localization is a 12th standard student... Now how do you explain these...

    True their are people for whom Money is everything... they might account for 80% ... but the rest 20% of people are still more than willing to share all their creations and work... Those 20% people have been carrying on this revolution so far for past 20 years.... And i think its my responsibility to support them and help my community....

    You know from where this motivation comes from ? when enthusiasts look back at all the development that has gone .... and because of which they have this excellent usable system in place... they get motivated to contribute their own bit also.... They might not be Free Software programmers for life... but they do contribute their little bit.... Its these little bits that add up to give us this huge collection of Free Software...

    And as far as i'm concerned, i'll be joining TIFR for my PhD studies in a few years... i'll be getting research grants and that will cover atleast my next 6 years....

    That's actually a good thing...

    No, today i'm at TIFR.... got a broadband here... but that's what i do otherwise...

    Well, the problem is that, all the biggies like Redhat, Novell etc, are churning out their own distributions that contain a mix of Free and Proprietary software... nothing wrong with it... they just want to aim the CEOs and bosses... We can be better off with a Debian GNU/Linux or Debian GNU/Hurd distro.... its endorsed unofficially by FSF also....
     
  17. OP
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    tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    Saved the post, will read it, will come re-connect once I have typed out my reply ;) I am on dial up. Still!! :cry:
     
  18. goobimama

    goobimama  Macboy

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    I know I'm spoiling the whole thread and link, but do check out firefox, its a very good "open source" browser breaking the "not open source" browsers aiss. So you see the difference. Open source is better than Money$oft. Its better for the people at least.
     
  19. OP
    OP
    tuxfan

    tuxfan New Member

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    :roll: Anyway, I use Firefox and many other here too :D Anyway, lets restrict the discussion to the topic at hand. Shall talk about browsers later at some more appropriate thread. Right? :)

    Back to GNUrag's post. As regards Karunakar G and Sayamindu, they must be experts in their fields. They are high level programmers. But just tell me what about M/s BLiS that I talked about in my example? What happens to people at that level? Can they survive on Freedomware? I doubt.

    And how many people are at the level of these two guys that you mentioned? Very few!! That is what makes them special.

    • Exactly!! Thats my point. How can anyone survive on Freedomware alone?
    • So only those people for whom money is not important should opt for freedomware? The rest should not!! That means you also agree that you can't make money by making freedomware? If you can't make money out of it, then you have to opt for something that will give you your daily bread and butter (and cake too!!).
    • Ahhh!! So you admit that a mix of freedomware and proprietory software is necessary!! Isn't it? ;)
    • I don't know the customs in too detail about PhD. But you will be covered up for 6 years by grants. Would you like to remain dependant on grants for the rest of your life? Are you sure you will be able to regularly get it? And even if you do get it, are you sure you want them?

    See, that is what my point is. Survival and progress in life is not possible if you are into making freedomware only. The concept is very noble and idealistic, but not practical for programmers. At least, you can't do it full time. And if you can't do it full time, proprietory software will forever remain, you can't eradicate it completely. There are no free lunches and there will never be.

    I would like to hear from Dr. Nagarjun on this. GNUrag, I am asking for a favour form you on this. Please try to arrange for a talk on this topic by Dr. Nagarjun (or some other equally or more efficient speaker and GNU extremist) and let us all hear what he says. I would love to have a Q & A session as well. I would love to have a seminar like we had at Somaiya College. Good speech, good CD and a good lunch :D ;) :lol:
     
  20. GNUrag

    GNUrag FooBar Guy

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    this post has become a talk between only two people... this should have been in General Discussions section.... who moved it here ?
     
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