When I talk to people about open-source software, one of the sore points seems to be the perception that open-source users won't pay for software. Is this true? OK. Disclaimer time:
The opinions expressed in this blog are solely
the thoughts of Chris Walden and do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of the IBM Corporation or its
First, I think there is a category of software users that will not pay for software. These are people who do not have money. Usually it is the young enthusiast or the experimenter, the tinkerer, who is simply seeking to learn about technology. In the past, these people pirated software, because nothing was freely available to them. Now, open-source software provides a legally free alternative for people who want to explore development, security, office tools, art and any number of things. I think this is good. People learn and no one has to feel guilty or risk prosecution.
So, how about the rest? I think that a line needs to be drawn here between purchasing software and paying for it. As a Linux user I have absolutely zero interest in paying $400 for an office package. I have multiple open options, including OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice. However, I appreciate the work that is done on these packages. I will periodically donate money to the development of these products, like I do to other social causes that I support. I don't normally send a few bucks here and there to commercial manufacturers. I may be unique, but I think there are a number of open-source supporters who regularly donate to software that they use. I think that if donations were better promoted that many more would.
An article from the Linux Insider, "It's a Roll of the Dice for Linux Game Makers," pointed me to a site called "Humble Bundle." This site does periodic releases of independent games. Users pay what they wish for the bundle. The last bundle, which I missed by a few days it seems, sold 372, 393 copies, raising $2,168,941.22. I know that's not much to some companies, but it's not bad for an independent effort (a relatively obscure one at that). What interested me more was the layout of the purchases. Here is a screen shot from their site, taken 8/23/2011.
I notice here that the majority of purchases were Windows users, but they had they lowest average for purchase price. Linux and Mac seem about equal in numbers, but the average Linux donation was around $12! That's 246% of what came from the Windows group and 156% of what came from the Mac purchasers. Assuming that the donation averages are based on money from Linux users divided by the number of Linux users it would appear that the open-source audience was more generous.
I've put my name in for the next Humble Bundle and I expect that
I'll contribute when the next opportunity comes around.
I think it's also important to bear in mind that an open-source user
may give something besides cash to support a project. Donation of
skills at any level helps keep a project going. These kinds of
donations can be anything from actual coding work to bug tracking and
reporting and assisting others in the help forums. Answering a usage
question on a forum may not seem like much to you, but a software
company pays a lot of money to make that happen commercially.
I think it's fair to say that people who have discovered open-source
software may not be prepared to support commercial software in the
lifestyle to which it has become accustomed. To get them to spend
money, a commercial software company will have to offer more than just
"software in a box." What else? I don't know. Good
service and strong support is always good. Solid connectivity
with other software and services could be good. Perhaps it will
require a look at where these people are
spending their money and why. For the Humble Bundle, I think it
had a sort of altruistic message that appealed to the audience. I
felt good about supporting something that mattered to me. From my
perspective, things are shifting. We'll have to wait and see
exactly where it all ends up.