11 votes

Why open source projects don't charge (while keeping the code open)?

I'd gladly pay a reasonable price for professional packages/support for programs like Emacs/Melpa, Debian, and Xfce. As a user, I empathize with the complaints by developers that are constantly overworked. Even if this doesn't generate enough money to pay for everything, it might be enough to hire someone to handle the issues and communities, something that clearly drains their efforts, especially because programmers tend to prefer technical challenges rather than dealing with people.

I understand that many projects accept donations, but I think providing an actual reward (even if its something minimal, like an updated package instead of having to build it from source) might be a good way to get resources and avoid developer burndown.

24 comments

  1. [3]
    apoctr Link
    I'm sure that someone would pay for the reward and then redistribute the package to everyone. Charging for support, like RedHat does, may be a good alternative?

    providing an actual reward (even if its something minimal, like an updated package instead of having to build it from source)

    I'm sure that someone would pay for the reward and then redistribute the package to everyone.

    Charging for support, like RedHat does, may be a good alternative?

    11 votes
    1. [2]
      mrbig Link Parent
      Yes, of course... but remember, the code would be still open. You wouldn't be paying for package 1.5, you would be paying for the guarantee to get 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 etc from a reputable source on day...

      Yes, of course... but remember, the code would be still open. You wouldn't be paying for package 1.5, you would be paying for the guarantee to get 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 etc from a reputable source on day one. Of course, some people would "pirate", even though they could just build from source. You're paying for the practicality AND, possibly most important, some kind of support.

      It would still be packaged for free by distributions, but by paying you might get a newer version, for example.

      1 vote
      1. apoctr Link Parent
        The biggest problem comes with the additional complexity in distributing and maintaining the software. The first hurdle is getting package maintainers for every major distribution on board with...

        It would still be packaged for free by distributions, but by paying you might get a newer version, for example.

        The biggest problem comes with the additional complexity in distributing and maintaining the software. The first hurdle is getting package maintainers for every major distribution on board with your release scheme: many would refuse to respect the conditions and just continue to package the latest available release (at least, in rolling distributions). If you can't get the maintainers on board, it means the new responsibility of making binary packages for potentially a few different OSs (Linux, BSDs, MacOS) depending on the software and the complexity of making sure the user doesn't already have a packaged version installed, that you or the package manager don't overwrite another's files, etc. More work for developers.

        You've also got to think about what code was changed between version changes. Locking fixed security vulnerabilities, for example, behind a soft paywall would be a dick move and would probably mean instead that developers would now need to maintain and backport changes for 2+ releases of their software: the latest paid version, latest public version, and any other LTS versions they might have. Meaning more work for developers.

        Assuming you can get maintainers on board, then you've got to deal with the users. Because effectively integrating paywalled releases into a package manager would require some sort of authentication measures or naive checks, it would be seen as either extremely invasive or easy to bypass. Furthermore it would most likely stir up hysteria about the future of adding closed-source, paid software to distro repos. How everything would mesh with the more "stable" distributions is another issue.

        5 votes
  2. [5]
    Diff Link
    elementaryOS has been doing something along these lines, although it's more "pay what you want, but you're encouraged to support development." They have their own software store with a lot of apps...

    elementaryOS has been doing something along these lines, although it's more "pay what you want, but you're encouraged to support development." They have their own software store with a lot of apps people make specifically for eOS.

    9 votes
    1. [3]
      masochist (edited ) Link Parent
      Ubuntu has been doing the "pay what you want" thing for a while, too. When you go to download their ISOs, they ask for a donation. edit: Whoa, when did elementaryOS get that many apps written for...

      Ubuntu has been doing the "pay what you want" thing for a while, too. When you go to download their ISOs, they ask for a donation.

      edit: Whoa, when did elementaryOS get that many apps written for it? That's impressive. May have to give it a try sometime.

      7 votes
      1. [2]
        Diff Link Parent
        They've got really a lot of high quality apps. I'm always tempted to go back just for them lol

        They've got really a lot of high quality apps. I'm always tempted to go back just for them lol

        1. masochist Link Parent
          As far as I can see, the elementaryOS apps are all open source. Presumably (!) you could build them on not-elementaryOS, though the experience may not be the same. I know a few of them existed...

          As far as I can see, the elementaryOS apps are all open source. Presumably (!) you could build them on not-elementaryOS, though the experience may not be the same. I know a few of them existed before being adopted by elementary, like their mail, calendar, and photos apps (RIP Yorba Foundation).

          1 vote
    2. mrbig Link Parent
      I think that's a good idea.

      I think that's a good idea.

  3. [4]
    masochist Link
    Some of us are hippies after the style of Richard Stallman and don't think people should have to pay for software. Especially as I gain more experience in the software industry, I'm seeing that,...

    Some of us are hippies after the style of Richard Stallman and don't think people should have to pay for software. Especially as I gain more experience in the software industry, I'm seeing that, IMO, business and money (and the things they bring with them, like deadlines and SLAs) take all of the fun out of software development. If I have someone giving me money for my work, there's a certain expectation of quality, professionalism, and punctuality that doesn't exist (or at least not in the same way) for a free (and Free) project. Alan Perlis has an otherwise unsourced quote in SICP describing how important it is to keep the fun in computing, and how that's directly opposed to the expectations of paying customers. For people like me, open source is a way of keeping our interest--and our hobby--fun, without the interference of Peter principle promotions who weren't even very good at programming and customers who don't care about you or your work so long as it makes their work easier so their customers can repeat the cycle. If you want a rantier version, this post covers it fairly well. I didn't write it, but after five years I still remember it, it still speaks to me.

    (... immensely bitter about capitalism? You don't say...)

    9 votes
    1. [3]
      thisonemakesyouthink Link Parent
      Stallman's views have never been about not charging for software, and he's never expressed that. You misunderstand his ideology. He believes that software should be free as in the freedom to use...

      Stallman's views have never been about not charging for software, and he's never expressed that. You misunderstand his ideology. He believes that software should be free as in the freedom to use it how you like.

      7 votes
      1. [2]
        masochist Link Parent
        Yes, you're right. I tend to conflate the two in my mind because they tend to go together. But you're right, it's wrong to do so. Mea culpa.

        Yes, you're right. I tend to conflate the two in my mind because they tend to go together. But you're right, it's wrong to do so. Mea culpa.

        1. thisonemakesyouthink Link Parent
          Fair enough, I've done so too on a few occasions. I actually once did it while speaking to Stallman himself... that was embarrassing.

          Fair enough, I've done so too on a few occasions. I actually once did it while speaking to Stallman himself... that was embarrassing.

          1 vote
  4. [3]
    Octofox Link
    Because its incredibly difficult to sell a product and give it away for free at the same time. Most of the benefits of FOSS are mostly incompatible with selling software. I know someone will point...

    Because its incredibly difficult to sell a product and give it away for free at the same time. Most of the benefits of FOSS are mostly incompatible with selling software. I know someone will point out you are still allowed to sell foss software but the fact is you can not stop people from getting it for free.

    Pretty much all profitable FOSS work comes from software that can be sold to companies who want extra features that are kept proprietary or it is developed by a company who sells something else and this is just a backend part that helps them sell stuff.

    Its a bit sad really. I am working on a foss project and if it was able to pay me to work on it full time it would be something really quite amazing but currently I am just spending a few hours a weekend on it so it takes me a month to do what would be a few days work on a proprietary product.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      vord Link Parent
      That's why you don't try to sell the software itself, you sell support contracts. I would venture the vast majority of RedHat's customer base isn't paying for proprietary customizations, they are...

      Because its incredibly difficult to sell a product and give it away for free at the same time.

      That's why you don't try to sell the software itself, you sell support contracts. I would venture the vast majority of RedHat's customer base isn't paying for proprietary customizations, they are paying for support. Ditto for Gitlab (support is probably much more important than the features gated by paying)

      This is true of almost any other open source product....tons of companies don't care about having the source, but will gladly pay for a support contract. So you can give away the code (to people who probably wouldn't pay for it anyway, but builds your userbase), and reap financial benefits from the companies that want support.

      There are several other models I've seen as well: Open source code, but no documentation or support for how to build from source (especially on Windows), and sell the pre-compiled binaries. Make the easiest way to obtain your product by hosting it for your customers. Offer paid prioritization for bug fixing or adding features.

      While a new FOSS project might not be able to pay developers immediately, if a large enough user base starts using a project, odds are that there will be some way to monetize enough to be sustainable.

      5 votes
      1. Octofox Link Parent
        The software I am building is useless to companies and requires no support.

        The software I am building is useless to companies and requires no support.

  5. [4]
    vakieh Link
    a) who would you pay b) who would control the dispersal c) would the developers support fee gatelocking of any kind (they wouldn't) d) what motivation changes would you see once money got into it...

    a) who would you pay
    b) who would control the dispersal
    c) would the developers support fee gatelocking of any kind (they wouldn't)
    d) what motivation changes would you see once money got into it (a common theme here on ~s)?

    There are professional support services for things like Linux OSs from RedHat (free version is Fedora) and Canonical for Ubuntu. Plenty of individual developers have patreons.

    The thing to remember is, developers of open source software (real open source, not the 'private company that releases their code' open source) are volunteers. They can't be overworked, they can only be overcommitted. Adding money to this mix is likely to make this worse, not better, either by removing the will to volunteer, or seeing people think they have to do more - I think they give enough, they don't need to make extra things for the people who pay.

    I would also call into question

    I'd gladly pay a reasonable price for professional packages/support

    What you think is reasonable is almost certainly not reasonable when you look at the prices software actually commands. Debian could ask for $1k per machine per LTS and still provide net value.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      mrbig Link Parent
      I would! I don't think that's an issue. See my other comment. I don't think that's necessary. d) what motivation changes would you see once money got into it (a common theme here on ~s)? This is...

      a) who would you pay

      I would!

      b) who would control the dispersal

      I don't think that's an issue. See my other comment.

      c) would the developers support fee gatelocking of any kind (they wouldn't)

      I don't think that's necessary.

      d) what motivation changes would you see once money got into it (a common theme here on ~s)?

      Adding money to this mix is likely to make this worse, not better, either by removing the will to volunteer, or seeing people think they have to do more - I think they give enough, they don't need to make extra things for the people who pay.

      This is certainly something to consider, probably on a project-by-project basis.

      Debian could ask for $1k per machine per LTS and still provide net value.

      I think distributions like Debian could still be freely distributed like it is now, but charge a fee if you required some kind of dedicated support. My suggestion about other types of programs is in my other comment.

      1. [2]
        vakieh Link Parent
        a) I said who would you pay, not who would pay. Who is the owner? b) Dispersal here refers to the funds. Who gets paid what %? Suddenly you've just ADDED significant administration and drama (hoo...

        a) I said who would you pay, not who would pay. Who is the owner?
        b) Dispersal here refers to the funds. Who gets paid what %? Suddenly you've just ADDED significant administration and drama (hoo boy the drama)
        c) You've described gate locking all over the place. Only getting day 1 release if you pay? Only getting a pre-compiled binary? The open source community would laugh at the thought, and crucify anyone who tried it.

        d) This is certainly something to consider, probably on a project-by-project basis.

        You would need to more than consider it, because the vast majority of code and contributor licences would disallow it entirely.

        6 votes
        1. mrbig Link Parent
          Sorry, I clearly misunderstood several terms you used. I don't know. How are donation, Patreons etc handled now? Couldn't they use a similar approach? Same as the previous answer. Why would they...

          Sorry, I clearly misunderstood several terms you used.

          a) I said who would you pay, not who would pay. Who is the owner?

          I don't know. How are donation, Patreons etc handled now? Couldn't they use a similar approach?

          b) Dispersal here refers to the funds. Who gets paid what %? Suddenly you've just ADDED significant administration and drama (hoo boy the drama)

          Same as the previous answer.

          c) You've described gate locking all over the place. Only getting day 1 release if you pay? Only getting a pre-compiled binary? The open source community would laugh at the thought, and crucify anyone who tried it.

          Why would they laugh/crucify people, if nothing would change for them? Most people get packages from distributions, this would change. Some other people get the source, that wouldn't change either. Some people make their own packages, they would still be able to do so. BUT, if someone wants to support the project and get the binary on day one with added support, this option would be available. This is not something that most hardcore technical user base would even need. But a portion of the not so advanced, or the ones with restricted time, users might find it interesting option. It might even be just a nudge to help someone who wouldn't otherwise donate justify a contribution.

          d) This is certainly something to consider, probably on a project-by-project basis.

          You would need to more than consider it, because the vast majority of code and contributor licences would disallow it entirely.

          I did not know that. But maybe at least some projects have licenses that allow that?

  6. thisonemakesyouthink Link
    As an aspiring FOSS dev, you have to understand that they don't do it for money, or praise, or whatever. They do it because they like giving to the community and building better software. They do...

    As an aspiring FOSS dev, you have to understand that they don't do it for money, or praise, or whatever. They do it because they like giving to the community and building better software. They do it because they enjoy the freedom of using their software how they want, and they want others to enjoy this freedom with software they write. It doesn't make sense to charge when you're trying to give back. Donations, sure.

    3 votes
  7. Weldawadyathink Link
    Davx5 on Android does this. It costs money on Google play store, but you can download it for free from fdroid.

    Davx5 on Android does this. It costs money on Google play store, but you can download it for free from fdroid.

    1 vote
  8. teaearlgraycold Link
    For smaller projects, most likely the FOSS developers are only working on the project part time. It's likely that they make good money at a full time job and only put time into FOSS development as...

    For smaller projects, most likely the FOSS developers are only working on the project part time. It's likely that they make good money at a full time job and only put time into FOSS development as a hobby. They don't want to spend any more time on it than they already do, so donations won't help it move along (but would be nice as a thanks).

    1 vote
  9. knocklessmonster Link
    There are a couple music programs (Radium and Ardour that require you to pay to access fully usable binaries, but you can easily compile them yourself. Radium is somewhat complicated to build to...

    There are a couple music programs (Radium and Ardour that require you to pay to access fully usable binaries, but you can easily compile them yourself. Radium is somewhat complicated to build to work just as it is distributed, but it is possible (the dev does it in Fedora, but it won't work in Ubuntu or Arch for various reasons, but does fine in Debian). Ardour is available in most distros' repositories, so you don't even need to pay for it to use it unless you use Windows. Radium goes a bit further and support is tiered based on your subscription level (subscribe to a higher tier, your features and issues get looked at first). I think it's an alright method, because you pay to get the developer's ear, and to fund ongoing development, without being able to dominate the project. I'm subscribed to Radium's development, and frankly don't even expect the one-man show to operate like, say, Renoise, which is a small team and company dedicated to a product.

    I don't think FOSS devs deserve our money, but if I see an opportunity to incentivize development (Qutebrowser did a ~$3000 indiegogo to back a month of solid development, I think it hit some stretch goals), I'll back it. I donate to projects as I can (less than I would like), because I don't have much in the way of technical expertise (I'm not very experimental, and try to avoid breakage as much as possible, so I don't see much in the way of bugs). I would never fault a dev for asking for money to dedicate time to develop a project, at least provided they actually do so after getting the money.

    1 vote
  10. Arshan Link
    (Opencollective)[https://opencollective.com/] seems to generally fit with your post. I have never used it, mainly because I am poor in time and money, but that is not a rejection of it.

    (Opencollective)[https://opencollective.com/] seems to generally fit with your post. I have never used it, mainly because I am poor in time and money, but that is not a rejection of it.

    1 vote