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JDShu
April 2nd, 2010, 06:48 AM
I had an interesting conversation with a friend today. He wanted to play a game and I suggested OpenTTD. He then asked why developers were willing to write software essentially for free - why they were not worried that some third party would come in and sell it for money.

I explained that the developers were not doing this in order to sell software and make money. It was to scratch a creative itch, or maybe to get a program to act in a way that they thought would be useful. In addition the copyright means that the 3rd party would not be able to stop the original devrlopers from continuing to distribute it. Apparently this was completely alien to him. He said that since companies had great marketing power, they could essentially do nothing and sell the software to suckers, few as the number of suckers may be. It violated a moral principle in his mind, that people had the opportunity to profit off somebody else's work.

It was very enlightening to see what people who were not immersed in open source think about it. Do you think this is a legitimate point? If so why? If not, what would you tell him?

phrostbyte
April 2nd, 2010, 06:55 AM
Maybe you should explain to him that people profit off of other people's work all the time. Last time I checked it was called 'capitalism'. :)

V for Vincent
April 2nd, 2010, 06:57 AM
Because the practices he describes are illegal, for one. Open source software is often GPL'ed, for example.

Also, a lot of companies do make money off open source software. It can be a business model - just an atypical one.

JDShu
April 2nd, 2010, 07:04 AM
Maybe you should explain to him that people profit off of other people's work all the time. Last time I checked it was called 'capitalism'. :)

LOL good one, why didn't I think of that? I guess hes thinking that because it could just be purely marketing, and no additional development, that its somehow unfair.


Because the practices he describes are illegal, for one. Open source software is often GPL'ed, for example.


My understanding of the GPL is that you can sell it for money as long as you provide the source on demand.

phrostbyte
April 2nd, 2010, 07:13 AM
Because the practices he describes are illegal, for one. Open source software is often GPL'ed, for example.

Also, a lot of companies do make money off open source software. It can be a business model - just an atypical one.

You can sell GPL'ed software.

The main thing different from GPL'ed code and something completely public domain is GPL code has a "share-alike" clause. Which means in order to distribute software under GPL, you must also share the source code. What this means is someone can't just ninja your code and put it in their proprietary project under the standard draconian EULA. At least not legally.

phrostbyte
April 2nd, 2010, 07:29 AM
Yes there is always the risk that people will just take your code and try to sell it, without any worthwhile contribution to the project or to FOSS in general. Generally these people are only interested in money and not providing value, ie. at best they are an economic leech. Fortunately I don't think they are that common. Even with BSD code, I see lots of people playing "fair".

But really these so called "leeches" cause no real harm to a software project anyway. The fact is 'imaginary property' can be copied and copied and copied, and it doesn't cost the original developer anything when this happens. Even for proprietary software: the best they can argue is loss of a "potential sale". It's not like someone who goes into a store and steals a TV. That actually costs that store money regardless if the person wouldn't have purchased it anyway.

Well that's just one way to look at it. There is so many angles to this it's daunting.

Who is paying me to play OpenTTD? I'm playing video games and not getting paid for it. In fact often, people pay to play video games! If "time = money", why aren't people getting paid for these activities?

Well video games are leisure/entertainment. People do not expect to get paid for such things. Can not software development be a form of leisure/entertainment?

When I was younger I wrote a stupid MUD game, and trust me I had more fun doing this then I ever had playing any video game. People who play video games: you don't know where the real entertainment is. It's in making the video game.

Should I have cared that I'm not getting paid seven figures to do it? I don't expect this from other forms of entertainment. Not every line of code you write needs to have a business plan attached to it.

Many people work day jobs writing proprietary code, and they have their own little hobbyist FOSS project they maintain. Often they wish they could quit their day job and work on that FOSS project full time. :) Perhaps one day such things will be possible.

3rdalbum
April 2nd, 2010, 09:22 AM
Open-source software is sometimes sold to suckers. You wouldn't believe it, but there are websites out there that advertise Firefox and claim that you can only get it by buying a subscription to their "service".

Obviously this is bad, but it is not widespread enough or common enough (or there aren't enough suckers) for it to be of great concern.

Dragonbite
April 2nd, 2010, 02:12 PM
Open-source software is sometimes sold to suckers. You wouldn't believe it, but there are websites out there that advertise Firefox and claim that you can only get it by buying a subscription to their "service".

Obviously this is bad, but it is not widespread enough or common enough (or there aren't enough suckers) for it to be of great concern.

Depending on how they state it, it is also false advertisement and the "customer" can demand their money back (plus damages ;) ).

eriktheblu
April 2nd, 2010, 02:47 PM
Maybe you should explain to him that people profit off of other people's work all the time. Last time I checked it was called 'capitalism'. :)Profiting from the work of others sounds more like communism to me.

People can gain value from work without gaining profit. Nobody pays me to mow my lawn, but my yard looks nicer when I do.

I'm sure motivations to develop OSS are as numerous as there are OSS developers.

Google's stated model with Chrome is to enhance browser technology in order to better support web applications. With better browsers, more complex webapps can be implemented. Google profits from advertising on it's webapps. Even if Chrome is not a popular browser, Google profits because other browsers must advance to compete.

It's possible for a third party to sell GPL software, but I don't consider that to be a great business model. People can smell snake oil a lot better than you might think.

donkyhotay
April 2nd, 2010, 03:03 PM
I'm the lead developer and administrator of a small open source project, project tether (code.google.com/p/tether). I don't expect to ever really make any money off my project (though it would be nice). But I continue to work on it because one of my favorite games of all time, Moonbase Commander (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonbase_Commander), got completely @#$% by the parent company and they basically killed it. Because of this I started my own version. I work on it less for any actual money and more because I want to be able to play the game again natively on linux, and without all the major bugs that were in the original proprietary version that weren't ever fixed. My project is GPL'd so that I can use code from other GPL'd programs to speed up development and also so that if something happens (like I get bored, lose interest, die, etc.) someone else can take over and it doesn't just die again like what happened with the original. Making money off of it isn't anywhere near as important since my goal is to be able to play it again. However despite the lack of money there have been other compensations, first I have learned a lot about programming working on it. Enough that having pretty much finished it, I'm starting over again from scratch to fix some of the fundamental errors I made at the beginning because I didn't know better. What I've learned about coding by working on my project though has made me more hireable though so indirectly I will still "make money" off of it. Ultimately the two major views on the reason to encourage/use FOSS is either linus' view "use the best tool for the job and FOSS naturally crates better tools" or stallmans view "FOSS encourages human freedoms and liberty". The focus isn't on making money directly (which is the view of almost every other software company) but in providing better tools and freedoms. However doing this you can still make money, you just have to provide a service to go along with it. A good example is red hat, sure you can get fedora for free. But some people (mostly businesses) spend $1000+ for the same thing because they want the tech support that comes with the pay for version. Another good example is google chrome. Google won't be selling chrome directly but by providing an inexpensive FOSS operating system it will help more people get online. The more people that get online the more money google makes. So by giving away and providing FOSS tools google makes money in the long run. Thats the kind of perspective thats really needed to be successfull as a business in the FOSS world. Will some people 'steal' a program and sell it, of course! Happens all the time. However either the people that do that provide a service not available from the developers directly (i.e. a disc with a compilation of FOSS programs on it; free tech support for programs purchased from them, etc.) or people quickly wise up, stop buying from them and they go out of business.

JDShu
April 2nd, 2010, 08:10 PM
Thanks for the perspectives guys. donklyhotay's explanation from the developer's perspective is also very interesting. From the explanations and further discussion with RL friends, I've concluded that the disconnect in thinking between most people and people interested in oss might be impossible to bridge. People have different ideas of what is "fair" so even if the oss developer is content, outsiders might think that s/he is foolish and overly idealistic. Its just a fundamental difference in thinking I guess.