Monday, March 13, 2006

"It's Free"- Misunderstanding Open Source

It's amazing how many people who should know better still do not grasp the fundamentals of Open Source software. This blog was prompted by an interview with a VP of an IT Integration company that employs people of 140 nationalities, serving 1,800 customers in 220 countries. Even worse, the interview was in a respected IT magazine that really should know better. In response to the question "What place is there for open source software", the interviewee responded " is free...". No, it's not necessarily! They aren't the only culprits, a quick search on Google is testimony to that.

OPEN SOURCE does not mean FREE. I don't mean in some clever ambiguous total cost of ownership sense, but in the basic "I want to buy this software" sense. If you want free software, look out for "Free Software". Often, Open Source is free, but not always.

The Open Source Initiative says, with respect to free, that the software must be able to be REdistributed for free. It is about not placing restrictions downstream. The code owner could choose to charge the buyer for it, but is not permitted to restrict the use by the buyer.

As the Open Source initiative puts it in answering a developer's question about whether they can charge for their Open Source software, "You can sell your code. Red Hat does it all the time. What you can't do is stop someone else from selling your code as well".

This is an important distinction. The source code has value which the owner is permitted to generate revenues from whilst still falling within the scope of Open Source. Obviously, the model encourages you to look for other ways to add value to your code such as consultancy and support, but all those pedalling "it's free" as a benefit of Open Source should check- it's not always true and they're doing the industry a disservice.

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