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who pays for open-source?

Posted by alanwilliamson on July 28, 2003 at 7:19 AM PDT

Open-Source is something that is never far from the headlines. It is something that I have been giving a lot of thought to as of late. I haven't resolved my views on the whole movement yet and at the moment, I am purely in a data-collection phase.

The one thing that I have been trying to resolve is the whole notion of food-on-the-table, and who actually puts it there. We all have to eat and if we give away all our hard earned work, then what are we to charge for? This is when the story really gets interesting.

The great belief, as sung by pretty much all companies involved in open-source, is "we charge for support". Okay I can see how that might work, but I am unconvinced. I tried resolving this by looking at examples in other industries of this and I can't find one that sits as well.

We have the mobile operators heavily subsidizing their handsets, practically giving away the lesser models, with the hope that we'll use them more and they'll recoup their money that way. Whether this is working or not is yet to be seen, since a lot of the operators are crippled with the large 3G licenses they had to pay for.

But is there is an open-source model in other industries? What if an airline operated an open-source policy? Flying would be free, first-come-first-served, but the inflight meal (aka the service) would cost $400! Would such a policy work for the airline industry?

What about the automobile industry? Ford would give us all cars for free, but the servicing would be more frequent and be x100 what the typical service is now.

Seems a little farfetched doesn't it? But the thing is, looking at the ticket prices for many of the app-servers, it far outweighs the price of a plane seat.

On one hand, we have the barrier of entry completely removed at zero cost. If we want support and help, then its available to us at a premium. Not everyone will need support mind you, so we have a small minority that will purchase the necessary services. This money will be filtered back down to the company (or developers) that created the software in the first place, so they may put food on their table and continue to develop another day.

But the money they are paying will greatly inflated to compensate for the lack of revenue in the first place. So instead of everyone paying a little, we have a few paying a lot!

Doesn't seem quite right to me.

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