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Is open source really free of charge?


There are freeware and free software. In most cases these two categories overlap, but not always. Freeware is a kind of software which can be used free of charge. Free software is software which offers complete freedom in its usage. Many developers believe in releasing their software freely, but have hesitated to do so because they're concerned about losing control over their software. Licensing issues are complicated, and both the facts and fallacies you hear word-of-mouth can add to the confusion. (St. Laurent, 2004):

The most famous licence of free software is GNU GPL (General Public Licence) which declares that free software meets the following conditions:

* Freedom to execute a program, regardless of its purpose.

* Freedom to study how a program works and how to make adjustments to it to satisfy our needs. Access to source code is necessary condition for this freedom.

* Freedom to distribute program copies so we can help others with it.

* Freedom to improve program and to give improved program to public, which means allowing that all community benefits from it. Access to the source code is necessary condition for this freedom.

According to those criteria, software which is freeware, but has no free access to the source code isn't free software. However, all free software is at the same time also free of charge. When we know that, the answer to the subject of this paper is obvious. However, a fact that exists OS software and that it is completely free of charge, opens a few very interesting questions (Goldman&Gabriel, 2005) Namely, these are:

* Why is someone ready to spend so much time needed to develop quality software and after that give away all rights to economic benefits of that work?

* Is the development of OS community a threat to the software industry?

* How can we make profit on OS software?

* How reliable is OS software?


Many people wonder why somebody is ready to spend a lot of time developing the software and after completing it, give freedom to others--not just to use it free of charge, but also all other freedoms (Cusumano, 2005). Sometimes, to create quality software, time horizon is few months, in some cases even years. At first glance, that kind of behaviour is at least unusual.

The main reason why this is strange to us is that we live in a capitalist society where most of the things/services are viewed through the prism of economic gain and loss. However, the system of values in OS community is somehow different, which leads to strengthening of the OS community and quality of the OS software which is for the end user completely free of charge. After studying different texts about the question of this chapter, one can see that the answer to that question has two levels: an individual development of OS software and an organization which finances the development of OS software. It is very important to make the distinction between these two levels, because each one has different reasons for the development of OS software.

2.1. An individual starts with the development

Scenario: There are people with great software development skill. They decide for whatever reason to create quality and useful software. They put it under the OS license. Why? They did it for the personal satisfaction. Components of that satisfaction could be challenge, enjoying in programming, creation of something which will be their legacy, pleasure because they are participating is something very significant, potential indirect economic benefit: quality publicity on the job market. If the result of that work is also useful to others, that can be the initial spark of very positive energy. With participation of others their work achieves higher level of quality. They give away something which they would do anyway, so they do not lose anything. On the contrary, contribution of others creates something more valuable also for the original author. Because all of us need some income in our life to live normally, we can make assumption that people involved in OS activity have some sort of income in their life. For example, they have a job and in spare time they enjoy programming. In their spare time people do what they love. If somebody likes programming, spending time like that is not in any way different from spending time doing some hobby.

2.2. Big company is financing the development of OS

Scenario: Big organization decides to give source code of its software under the GNU LGPL licence. Why? The reason is much more different than for individuals, because in the case of companies there is economic motive which is easy to comprehend: according to that life of a company depends of their profit. (Goldman&Gabriel, 2005). Economic motives could be very positive publicity, creation of the market for some other non free products which are the great addition to OS software and creation of the market for giving support which becomes the source of income (

An example of the corporation like that is Sun Microsystems ( Their product is under LGPL licence. In addition to OpenOffice, they have also Java whose source code is available, but it is under the Sun licence. Partially, they give for free also Solaris operating system.

Authors of this paper deeply respect that kind of approach to the market because the end user benefits from that. This paper has been done with the Writer (in its first version).


This question rises after strengthening of OS community. The answer is: partially yes. But not so much that it can cause serious damage to it. Furthermore, in some areas it can even make it stronger. The beauty is that the end user can just benefit from the strong OS community. Commercial software industry is too strong so OS community cannot make some serious harm to it. But, in some cases, OS community has influence on the commercial software industry.

It is difficult to say in which ways exactly the development of OS community makes influence on software industry, and that is because of its dynamics, but it seems that it is making it better and it is giving a motive to the commercial companies to make an extra effort in the improvement of their products. This is important because only with extra features their product can motivate customers to buy it and not to use completely free OS alternative.

By using OS software, companies can reduce their costs. This statement is valid also for the software companies--e.g. companies which make custom made software for other companies. In the OS community there is not big interest for the development of that kind of software. This means, development of OS is a threat just to the part of software industry which produces popular software. Commercial companies which produce that kind of software must make an extra effort, but everybody else has better position in the development of custom made software.

Studying different sources, the author of this paper has found two ideas related to OS:

* Hardware manufactures can give OS drivers and with that give an opportunity to the market to improve it further on.

* the theory "what is valuable, will be paid" which says that if some software product has the value to the user, even if it is free of charge, the user will make donation for that software. This is very questionable theory because it seems too idealistic.


The answer to that question depends primarily on the level of the development and the interest of OS community for some tool. In case that there is great interest, the answer is definitely yes. Reasons for that are:

* great number of people are testing that kind of software and together they participate in the correction of found errors

* because of the openness of source code, it is great probability that certain security threats will be discovered and immediately resolved

* Great number of people participates in further improvements through suggestions, documentation, translation, addition of new functions etc.

If there is enough interest, sometimes it is just a question of time when will some tools become more quality and stableness than their commercial alternatives. Of course, if some software is the result of work of just one person, and OS community has no interest in that product, it is very possible that software isn't of high quality and stability.


Professionally--The author and his company are not threatened by the OS projects. At the contrary, the company can even profit from OS by reducing its costs. There is no threat since the company develops custom made software adjusted to special needs of the particular client. Because of the nature of company's software, OS shows no interest in it.

Personally--The author desired to create two programs /games using C# programming language: Sapere--dictionary and program for studying foreign words Abadel--game Othello/Reversi.

When they will be finished, the following choices are optional:

Commercial version--try to sell it to someone: it is too much hassle for what it offers. Earning is too low and only enormous amounts of money could be a proper motive. Even if that would be commercial, because of the high rate of piracy, no matter of used protection, people who would like to use it without paying would find the way. Commercial version would help to reduce the program usage.

Freeware version--free of charge, but closed source code. Not bad, but there is a better option.

OS version--the best option. That significantly improves the chances for further improvements of programs. In the case the final products would have real quality there is not any reason why the program would be in some Linux distributions. This would initiate a great publicity, which could give more benefit than harm on the job market (e.g. one can write in CV that programs can be downloaded from the Internet and to mention in which Linux distributions programs are). This is the reason why the programs are being developed in C# in a way that they are compatible with Mono and .net 1.1 platforms. By working like that we will have software which has better chance to spread to both platforms: Linux and Windows.

We give advantage to the OS community. We also respect freeware versions if they have high quality. No matter why is someone active within the OS community, this is one very positive thing which brings benefits to many people.


Speaking of profit, OS approach put emphasis on service and not on the products. OS is response to monopoly. There is whole new paradigm: not just Windows or Linux platform, but Internet platform. (E.g. Google is using 100 000 Linux servers), and everybody is using Google, which indirectly means that we are also using the service of Linux platform. Amazon is also using OS. Internet platform--Web (Internet) has its foundation in OS: TCP/IP protocol, BIND, DNS, sendmail, etc., Apache Server and Linux as servers. Within the new paradigm, real money lies in service which is based on the free products and not any more in products themselves. For example: BIND is the protocol for DNS. Author of BIND does not make money from it, but Domain Name Services have.


Cusumano, M. at al. (2005): Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (Hardcover), the MIT Press

Goldman, R.; Gabriel, R.P. (2005): Innovation Happens Elsewhere: Open Source as Business Strategy, Morgan Kaufmann, 2005

St. Laurent, A.M. (2004): Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing, O'Reilly Media, Inc. The GNU Project Free Software Foundation (Last Accessed: 2008-06-20) Open Source Initiative OSI-Welcome Accessed: 2008-06-20 The Linux Home Page, Accessed: 2008-06-05)
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Author:Vujicic Tomic, Brankica; Pogarcic, Ivan; Nizic, Berislav
Publication:Annals of DAAAM & Proceedings
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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