It's time for open-source users to open their wallets

History has shown that open-source users prefer their software free of charge but that's a problem for a lot of companies trying to keep the lights on.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Man shopping on laptop with open wallet
Getty Images/SrdjanPav

It was around the year 1999 and I was attending my first Linux convention at the Research Triangle where Red Hat was headquartered. I was, needless to say, excited. Not only was I going to be hanging around with fellow Linux users, but I was doing so under the guise of covering the convention for a company that had hired me to cover Linux and open-source. 

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When I first walked into the convention, I saw the "trench coat army" in full force, many of them sitting in halls, hacking away at laptops covered in stickers. Most of them sat alone, but some did test the waters of socialization. Some knew one another, while others (such as myself) wondered about the convention hall in absolute wonder of what was there.

Vendors. Businesses. Development teams. I met and chatted at length with Miguel de Icaza, the man who started the GNOME Desktop Environment. 

I also interviewed Scott Draeker, the CEO behind Loki Entertainment. If you've never heard of Loki Entertainment, its goal was to port Windows games to Linux. I played every one of the games it released and enjoyed them immensely. The job the company did porting the games was stellar and it looked like gaming on Linux was not only going to be a thing but a successful thing.

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A funny thing that…success. It's not only fickle, it has a way of undermining even the best laid plans.

Sadly, one of the things that Draeker intimated with me was his only fear for his company. It wasn't the ports. Oh no. The work his development teams were doing was spot on. His caution was far more dire than that…and it's one that not only came true in the short run, but became quite prophetic for the long haul.

Draeker's biggest fear was that the Linux community would refuse to pay for software.

He was right and that fear eventually helped lead Loki Entertainment to fold up. Along with the loss of the company came the hit Linux gaming would take. It wouldn't be until Steam became a thing that gaming on Linux would start to blossom.

However, even gaming on Linux with Steam has hardly taken off. According to Gaming On Linux, only 1.27% of users are running Steam on Linux. 

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How could that be? One of the biggest calls to action for the Linux community over the years has been gaming. 

"If only we could game on Linux, it would be world domination!" I can hear the specter of the community calling out from the past.

Well, we do have gaming on Linux and it works very well. And yet, only a fraction of Linux users actually bother to use Linux to play games with Steam.

Why is that?

I have a theory and it's one the Linux community might not want to hear.

Linux users don't want to pay for software.

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It makes sense. After all, the ethos of the Linux community has always been about freedom. I would argue that freedom should center around the freedom of source code, not the cost of software.

Keeping the lights on

Why do I think this particular subject bears repeating over and over? Because there are a lot of companies out there trying to do good things with open-source software. They are creating new and fantastic products and doing the right thing by releasing their code behind the community-friendly GPL (or similar) license. Those same companies often release community versions of their software with limited functionality. They then sell business, pro, or enterprise licenses to keep the lights on for the company.

The sad thing is, people aren't buying those licenses. Why? It's certainly not because the product they create is sub-par. Actually, in a number of cases, those products are far superior to anything else on the market.

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And yet, those companies struggle because the open-source users refuse to open their wallets. Of course, it doesn't just apply to open-source users. This issue can be traced all the way up to enterprise businesses. Why pay for a software license when you can download the source and use it for free?

Because companies are trying to build important products that make a difference and the only way those companies can stay afloat is if consumers and B2B partners understand the value behind keeping those companies in business.

But it's not just companies trying to sell software. It's also indie developers trying to get their products to be sold in app stores, such as GNOME Software, KDE's Discover, and elementary OS's AppCenter. The problem with that is many Linux users don't want to see software in their app stores with an associated price.

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But why? What's the problem with a developer who creates something cool for the Linux desktop making a buck with their creation? Shouldn't people be paid for their hard work? And wouldn't more software purchases lead to more and better software available?

If there was actually a market for paid Linux software, wouldn't it make sense that more and more companies could see the value in releasing their wares to the Linux platform?

I realize it's all very complicated, but this particular issue is not. It is time open-source users open their wallets and be willing to purchase software. The Linux operating system has been and will always be free to use. So why not be willing to pony up for those pieces of software you depend on. 

Pay for that password manager, the pro version of your favorite browser, buy some Steam games on Linux. Do what you can to help support the cause you hold dear. Not only are you thanking a developer for their hard work, you're showing companies that there is, in fact, a market for Linux software.

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Don't look this gift horse in the mouth too long, otherwise the horse might gallup away and never come back.

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