Open source is filled with freeloaders

Open source is filled with freeloaders

Summary: Free software leaves us free to create more knowledge, to spread the benefits of Moore's Law to more people at lower price points. It has been a lever on knowledge and the capability of the human mind the likes of which we have never seen before.

TOPICS: Open Source

With OSCON in the rear-view mirror the usual grievances are being aired.

Open source doesn't innovate. Some open source is vaporware. Big companies take advantage of open source but don't comply with the license terms.

It usually comes down to this. Open source is filled with freeloaders.

(Red Skelton himself originally painted this, a portrait of his Freddie the Freeloader character. The Plate Lady offers copies for $495.)

It's true. That's a bug, not a feature.

Open source is a process, not a technology. Open source uses the economics of the Internet to drive costs out of software development and distribution, while at the same time making the base for computer development and use wider, and deeper, every year.

Open source drives out monopoly profits. An innovator once had decades to take advantage of their breakthrough. Now it's just a few years, maybe months. This doesn't just stop Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It keeps anyone in software from being just like them, ever again.

Who's the winner in all this?

You are.

Around they time I took on this beat, in 2005, I helped a friend upgrade their Windows installation.

It was a tedious process. Because my friend didn't want to lose access to his old software, his old installation had to be mirrored. Technically this violated license agreements, but over the years my friend had spent thousands of dollars on his software applications. He lacked the cash to do it otherwise.

I saw him last month and asked how things were. He had upgraded again. But this time the process was quite different.

Now he just downloaded and installed the programs he used most often. for his office tasks. His Firefox browser. The Gimp for editing pictures. A screen capture program. Thunderbird for his e-mail, a free version of Mailwasher to clear out the spam, iTunes for his music. Those programs that weren't open source were still free as in beer.

The only software he paid for, he told me, was Windows 7. That came bundled with his machine, he had no choice in the matter. It took him a week, but he was working better than ever. His incremental cost was zero dollars. Much of it would update automatically.

Multiply my friend's experience by hundreds of millions, maybe billions. Consider how even enterprises, large and small, are taking advantage of these economics and you start to see my point.

Open source has truly changed the world. Most of the benefits have flowed to freeloaders, ordinary users treating the freedom of software as free beer. The money has been lost by developers and venture capitalists and salesmen and computer stores.

Software has been in a deflationary spiral since the world of open source began, and even while its use has expanded its economic value to those who made it has declined toward zero.

Once again that's a feature, not a bug. Free software leaves us free to create more knowledge, to spread the benefits of Moore's Law to more people at lower price points. It has been a lever on knowledge and the capability of the human mind the likes of which we have never seen before.

Instead of condemning all this, or complaining about how the glass is half-empty of economic calories, maybe it's time we took a bow. As with Red Skelton, freeloaders create value, too.

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Free(???) Software

    Free software is not free; someone has to spend time and effort developing it, testing it, and reworking it. If you use any of this free software, please donate to the developer(s); money, assistance, whatever.

    I'm not much of a programmer, but I can help find bugs and report them. I also donate money, especially to Mozilla and If I use something as small as a free app on my smart phone/PDA, I try to give a buck or two to the developer.

    Try all the free software you want, and when you find that useful application, either buy the paid version, or send the developer a donation. The shareware ideal is alive and well; it also disproves the old saw: "anything free is worth what you pay for it."
    • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

      @murphym@... Many developers don't even have a place on their sites to accept donations. They just write software for fun, and are gratified when others like their work.
      • Don't get paid for your work and do it for fun = AMATURE

        @neverhome Pros get paid for what they do.
      • @cornpie, pros know how to spell

        [i]Don't get paid for your work and do it for fun = AMATURE[/i]<br><br>And amateurs like you don't cut it.
        ahh so
      • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

        @cornpie & @ahh so

        i work with several professional programmers who refuse contracts that don't allow them to publish their code under an open source license, usually after a delay of a couple years, but still open source published at some point.

        their position is they are paid to create a specific piece of software that didn't exist before, one that suits the precise requirements of the buyer. and they each make more than $100k US per year...

        and when they go home for the day, they pour over more open source code, because they enjoy it...

        does that make them amateurs?
      • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders


        Wow! I'm going to start doing this too and see if I can make $100k a year! Not to put too fine a point on it, but I doubt the veracity of this. If a developer tells a corporate client that they are going to put the source code they were just paid to write out for free when they are done, guess what happens? The client laughs and finds someone else for the job. There are plenty of other talented developers who will be happy for the work (many offshore who will cost much less than $100k per year). The days where a single developer was somehow valuable enough to make ridiculous demands like this are long gone.
      • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders


        it isn't a single contract, it is hundreds of small contracts, and i base the >$100k on their tax returns.

        while i don't have verification of it, i suspect that a large percent is custom mods to existing open source packages, so the "must be published open source" is usually a given when the project is bid.
      • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

        Big companies take<a href=""><font color="light&amp;height"> about it</font></a> is bank that <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">website</font></a> attacked from the <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site support</font></a> from any soldier <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site</font></a> to the light <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">home page</font></a> is great advantage
  • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

    @frgough But tax cuts always pay for themselves! It's like a magical pony, and it always works. You told me.
    • Yeah, b/c tax cuts cut parasites off

      You see one of the best form of freedom is to allow hard working people to keep the fruit of their labor rather than forcing them to give it up to reward those who have not produced, be it a fool locked in a mortgage he was not qualified or a Wall St. bank blew their balance sheet in their lunatic business.
    • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

      @DanaBlankenhorn <br>When tax cuts are made on the right side of the (law of diminishing returns) curve then the do pay for themselves through increased revenue as production and economic activity increases. The characteristics of the bell curve that is tax revenue, determines when and how fast a tax cut will pay for itself when rates are on the supply-side of this bell curve(right side). So, when marginal tax rates are high enough, tax cuts actually increase revenue. When tax rates are at or near the top of the the bell curve, tax cuts increase revenue in the outer years. The compounding of increased economic growth from tax cuts generates more revenue than otherwise in later years. Thats why there was never a tax cut Reagan didn't love.<br>No magic, no pony.<br><br>Put down the cool-aid and Stick to what you know.


    Manny, the Prof, and Mike would agree with you.
  • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders


    Actually, there are tons of free lunches. When you're invited over to a friend's house for lunch, it is free. Entirely free. When you give food to somebody in the streets that is starving, you're giving them a free lunch as well.

    There is a popular saying in Costa Rica "Cada ladron juzga por su opinion." It paraphrases to "if you're a thief you assume everyone steals." I find it sad that people think like you. There are tons of people who develop open source simply because we enjoy to give it to the people. Think of artists. Is a painting only beautiful if the painter gets paid for it? Surely artists want to make a living. But they don't paint to get paid (although I am sure there are exceptions.) They paint because they enjoy expressing themselves through art.
    • One Big ATTABOY

      @arodriguez@... May you be blessed for your attitude and contributions. My mother and grandmother dearly loved the challenge of crossword puzzles. May each of your code contributions give you the joy they experienced from completing the NY Times Sunday Crossword.
    • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

      Technically frgough is right. It is not suggested that you do not give of yourself, simply that, even if someone doesn't pay for something monetarily, some form of payment was given, whether it be time, knowledge, etc.
    • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

      @arodriguez@... What you are describing is altruism...and in today's world, this is a very rare trait and usually reserved for those who have the lifestyle to be able to afford the philanthropic gesture. Unfortunately (or fortunately) people have to make a living and that can only happen if you sell something to someone.
    • wrong


      Where did your friend's food come from? How did it get prepared? Served? Who will clean up afterwards, do the dishes, throw out the trash?

      SOMEBODY always pays for lunch.
      There's a difference between "free" and "paid for by the wealth and/or industry of others".
    • RE: Open source is filled with freeloaders

      +1! There are those who cannot get their head around anything unless they can label it from something in their own library and they have only one color paint in their toolbox to paint with.
      Thanks to open source, I can afford to make payments to many more dev's, authors and implementers than previously. Open Source authors are benefittinig from "me" because I can afford to encourage them monetarily; that can't be said for proprietary wares.
    • No it's not free.

      @arodriguez@... You didn't pay for the lunch but your friend did. And if he gives you too many "free" lunches and you never reciprocate, then he may start re-evaluating your friendship. Nothing is free; repeat nothing. It's just a question of who is paying and how.
    • RE: No it's not free.

      I agree. If it's an NPO the developers could still be on a pay roll somewhere. Or they get grant money. Or funding from (not necessarily U.S.) government agencies. And, like any job there's the potential (and desire!) for advancement/promotion. Work in an OSS project might lead to pay in other jobs. And with people's tendency not to investigate details or dig into matters who knows what a person has actually contributed... Basically, if you contribute something and expect anything more than "Gee, thanks, ?#@*&%!" then you're hopelessly out of touch. And given the fast money and "freedom" traditionally inherent in the IT world, who knows what types of things are actually taking place...