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Mark Erbaugh
June 26th, 2007, 06:03 PM
I really like the concept of Open Source Software.

I have been an independent computer consultant / software developer for about 20 years and would like to include support for Open Source Software in my business.

I'm trying to figure out how to make a living with 'free' software. I'm looking for business models of how small companies are making a living supporting Open Source software. Where I have an issue is how can I justify charging for a software package I develop when all the tools I use to develop that package are OSS. Still, I have bills to pay and my time should be worth something.

I know some larger companies develop products for sale based on tools the develop and then release to OSS, but I don't think that as a one-man operation, I can do that, although perhaps I could.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.

maniacmusician
June 26th, 2007, 06:19 PM
I really like the concept of Open Source Software.

I have been an independent computer consultant / software developer for about 20 years and would like to include support for Open Source Software in my business.

I'm trying to figure out how to make a living with 'free' software. I'm looking for business models of how small companies are making a living supporting Open Source software. Where I have an issue is how can I justify charging for a software package I develop when all the tools I use to develop that package are OSS. Still, I have bills to pay and my time should be worth something.

I know some larger companies develop products for sale based on tools the develop and then release to OSS, but I don't think that as a one-man operation, I can do that, although perhaps I could.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.
Just because something is open source doesn't mean you can't charge for it. What you're really charging for is the binary that you distribute, and support (or updates, bugfixes, etc).

It's totally okay to have an open source product and sell it. It would be a great thing if you could make a living off of it. The only problem is that competition is fierce. What kind of products are you hoping to create and sell?

@trophy
June 26th, 2007, 06:45 PM
I really like the concept of Open Source Software.

I have been an independent computer consultant / software developer for about 20 years and would like to include support for Open Source Software in my business.

I'm trying to figure out how to make a living with 'free' software. I'm looking for business models of how small companies are making a living supporting Open Source software. Where I have an issue is how can I justify charging for a software package I develop when all the tools I use to develop that package are OSS. Still, I have bills to pay and my time should be worth something.

I know some larger companies develop products for sale based on tools the develop and then release to OSS, but I don't think that as a one-man operation, I can do that, although perhaps I could.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.

There's a few different ways of making money on open source (and you can find some excellent material about doing it here (http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/magic-cauldron/ar01s09.html))

But here's a few examples:


Charge for support of an open source product (Red Hat, Cygnus)
Give away your product to gain market share for a product you charge for (MSIE, Netscape)
Give away razors/Sell Razor Blades (CNR)
Create a product that everyone likes, then sell the eyeballs to advertisers (Too many to mention)


There's more, and I'd like to see them listed here, but I can't think of them off the top of my head at the moment.

samschoice
June 26th, 2007, 06:49 PM
If you develop software using open source, I don't see the moral dilemma for charging for the software you developed.

lingnoi
June 26th, 2007, 07:08 PM
I know some larger companies develop products for sale based on tools the develop and then release to OSS, but I don't think that as a one-man operation, I can do that, although perhaps I could.

Steve Streeting of OGRE 3D sells his services to games companies on how to integrate his software better while simultaneously working on a graphics engine. So it is more then possible to provide open source software and sell your services to companies / end users.

az
June 26th, 2007, 07:13 PM
I really like the concept of Open Source Software.

I have been an independent computer consultant / software developer for about 20 years and would like to include support for Open Source Software in my business.

I'm trying to figure out how to make a living with 'free' software. I'm looking for business models of how small companies are making a living supporting Open Source software.

With some few exceptions, free-libre software is a services industry. In a nutshell, you get paid for writing code, but you don't really charge for the code. The code is licenced in a way that everybody "owns" it. That way, in the same way that you can stand on someone's shoulders to get the job done, someone else will stand on yours'.

Floss can create opportunities where proprietary software cannot. For example, if you can customise/support some floss for someone who absolutely needs that software to run, there's your business. In the proprietary world, that service would not be available to the customer (perhaps only in a very limited way, at high cost), nor would you be able to offer it.

Forget about the software. Computers do stuff - and that's the value that your clients want. The software is infrastructure, like water and electricity. You pay for the service of getting water pumped into your house, you don't really pay to own the water, right?


Where I have an issue is how can I justify charging for a software package I develop when all the tools I use to develop that package are OSS. Still, I have bills to pay and my time should be worth something.

I know some larger companies develop products for sale based on tools the develop and then release to OSS, but I don't think that as a one-man operation, I can do that, although perhaps I could.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.


Don't think of developing software for sale. There is no value in shelfware. Think bigger.

use a name
June 26th, 2007, 07:13 PM
I'm trying to figure out how to make a living with 'free' software. I'm looking for business models of how small companies are making a living supporting Open Source software. Where I have an issue is how can I justify charging for a software package I develop when all the tools I use to develop that package are OSS. Still, I have bills to pay and my time should be worth something.
Could I read this as using foss tools to make proprietary software? If so and if it causes a moral dilemma: donate to the developers of the tools you use. ;)

Tomosaur
June 26th, 2007, 08:09 PM
Open source businesses are typically considered to be 'service' oriented. The act of building and distributing an easily usable binary package can be seen as a service. This is, in fact, what many people do. Distrowatch, for example, burns and sells CDs of distributions, although in most cases the distribution is free to download. Some people don't have the time, or ability, to download and burn the CD themselves. The distribution then, is a service. Typically however, there's not a lot of money in this. It's a way to make some decent pocket money, sure, but for a fully fledged business it's hardly a way to rake in cash. The most common route, I believe, is to sell support for some software, while providing the actual software for free.

Another method could be to provide customisation of open-source software for businesses. Let's say Business X (Corpocash) wants a custom version of GnuCash, with some new features specific to them. They hire you to make the changes to GnuCash, but you keep your changes GPLd and release them back into the community. This is a service, not a product. It's like sending your car off to a garage to have it painted a new colour. In some cases you do not necessarily need to distribute your changes, if they are for private use (For example, if you are an actual employee of Corpocash, and the modified software will only ever be used on that company's computers).

Open source is all about using the best to make the best. Open source developers typically don't like to reinvent the wheel, so why should businesses? The whole point is to revitalise the industry and stop re-hashing the same tired products and business models. Part and parcel of this is for business owners to create new industries around them, which is what inevitably drives innovation. If you can find a unique way to profit from open-source, then for a short time you could have a monopoly, if you're the only one providing that service. Soon others will follow your lead, and this competition will force yet more innovation.

If you treat your business as a service rather than as a provider of products, then you will see open-source in a new light and I'm sure you can come up with some great idea which will benefit both you and eventually the community in general.

az
June 27th, 2007, 01:16 AM
Well said.


If you can find a unique way to profit from open-source, then for a short time you could have a monopoly, if you're the only one providing that service. Soon others will follow your lead, and this competition will force yet more innovation.


And that can end up building a community. You do end up giving away your software and you should not be shy about that. The cost of making your software and giving it to someone is the same as giving it to everyone. Although you are giving away your work, being the first, or the best, has it's advantages. CentOS, for example, has not put Red Hat out of business.

In fact, building a community around your project (software/business/concept) is an important part of long-term success.

CentOS does take away paying customers from Red Hat, but it also adds members to it's community. And people will gage the chance for success of a project based on it's community.

If you are a support company, having affiliations and experience with interfacing with the FLOSS community is a necessity. It's like portable credibility.