Subject: Re: Can open source cost money?
From: Ben Laurie <>
Date: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 17:51:46 +0100

Rich Morin wrote:
> At 02:22 -0700 8/25/98, Ben Laurie wrote:
> >I'm quite happy with the idea that open source software can cost money -
> >after all, it already does, look at Linux/FreeBSD/... - the important
> >point is my ability to review, fix, contribute, modify, not the price
> >tag.
> There is a slippery slope hiding here.  Although it is possible to pay
> for distributions of Linux/FreeBSD/..., it is not necessary to pay in
> order to use them.  (That is, versions are available over the Internet,
> from friends, etc.)

Agreed, one must be very careful here.

> In contrast, UNIX (TM) source code is available only under license.  I
> remember hearing folks from universities and research laboratories tell
> me to "just look at the source code" when I asked questions.  When told
> that my license from Sun did not allow this, they generally sniffed and
> moved on in search of more elevated society.

This is the point. Open source does not restrict the availability of

> The easy availability of source code for BSD-Lite and GNU software lets
> riff-raff like me into the game, greatly expanding the playing field.
> It also "caps" the profits made by distributors, keeping the prices to
> a fraction of (say) UNIX licensing costs.

Capping profits is _not_ the aim of open source, in my view. Keepings
costs down may be, but most important is the freedom to develop,
scrutinise, improve.

>  In short, although freedom
> from cost is not the only issue surrounding Open Source software, it
> _is_ an important issue.

One of the reasons I am not a GPL fan, and prefer the Berkeley license
used by Apache, is that GPL more-or-less forces freedom from cost, which
is superficially attractive, but a serious limitation in some

Some software is expensive to develop and/or has a small audience. If we
insist that it should be cost-free in order to "count" as open source,
such software will never, ever be open. This would be a Bad Thing.

There are also other reasons source can be expensive - for example, if
reliability is very important, the cost of testing/maintenance can be
high (even if ALL your development is done for nothing), particularly
(as in some systems I have worked on) if testing cannot be correctly
carried out without huge resources.



Ben Laurie            |Phone: +44 (181) 735 0686| Apache Group member
Freelance Consultant  |Fax:   +44 (181) 735 0689|
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