Freedom, Beer and Open-Source

We write a lot on this blog about the nuances of the open-source ecosystem, and especially about the difference between free open-source and commercial open-source.

In the context of free and open-source software, free refers to the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than to the price of the software. … one should “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer”.

Wikipedia on Free and open-source

The accepted definition of the ‘free’ part of ‘free open-source’ does not talk about being free as in costs no money (free beer) but about the freedoms afforded to the user of the software – being able to read, modify and distribute the source of the software (as in free speech).

This is an important distinction – as free-in-cost got attached to the term open-source, but does not actually define what open-source is. Put in other words, the philosophy of open-source values freedom of use but says nothing about the cost of distribution by the copyright holder. This is the main concept behind Binpress – that the availability of code and the freedom to use it is the main benefit of open-source, and we should support that by building a business environment that encourages and supports the sharing of code in a sustainable way.

Are all of our licenses compatible 100% with this definition of free? no. There’s a price-freedom optimization that allows to provide different pricing for tiers of freedom depending on yours needs. If you don’t need the freedom to redistribute, but just modify and use the code in your application, you can obtain the same results at a reduced price. That’s basic market economics.

Resistance to change [cost > 0]

People don’t want to pay for stuff they are used to get for free. That’s just common sense. Most of the available open-source code is free as in free beer in addition to being free as in free speech. Naturally, when you start a movement whose goal is to change that, you’re going to encounter resistance.

That resistance breaks when you have a problem that doesn’t have a free component. Then, the value talk is different – paying for a solution that saves you > x10 times in costs / time suddenly makes sense. And the fact that paid licenses were able to sponsor the existence of that solution now seems like a good idea.

We previously covered how the donations model does not help sustain open-source projects. Giving a developer a pat on the back is different than supporting his efforts in a substantial way. While Apple is trying it bottom out developer compensation with its pricing strategy, we are trying to do the opposite by creating a revenue channel for developers willing to create new value to the software community.

An old concept, now streamlined

Commercial open-source has been around for a while. If you have any connection to the software industry, you’ve heard about MySQL, Redhat, Magento and similar companies making big businesses from open-source products.

With Binpress our intention is to give developers tools to replicate the process those companies went through, while abstracting the parts generally not a part of a software developer’s toolset – marketing, distribution, sales, licensing, pricing, payments and fees. With a centralized market for curated open-source products, published projects also benefit from sharing the audience with many other projects – the “Appstore” effect. Curation is an important part, preventing quality being drowned in a see of noise.

So next time you shout out “but open-source is supposed to be FREE!”, keep in mind what kind of freedom we are talking about. And it’s the important kind.

Author: Eran Galperin

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