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Open source is not charity

Open source is not a charity. It's a business model. You use open source to make money. If you are only interested in the social benefits of free software, you're in FOSS, not open source.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

For today's post we are going to set the wayback machine to the year 1970. (Picture from Wikimedia.)

Everyone's wearing bell bottom trousers that get caught in your bike spokes. Everyone has long hair. Hey, I got hair!

Anyway, I was 15. I wanted to be a publisher. Specifically I wanted to publish an alternative high school newspaper.

So I found an advertiser. I quoted the price. It was enough to set me up in business. The client agreed. He wrote out a check, by hand. And then in the margin, where he designated the purpose of the check, he wrote the word "charity."

I was devastated. (Yes, I took the check. I was devastated, not stupid.)

Let's move up nearly 40 years to our friend Matt Asay fisking a piece in Slate about Amazon.Com's lack of charitable giving.

Don't attack Amazon, he said. Look at open source. Make the giving fit into their business model and Ebenezer Bezos will turn into Scrooge McDuck faster than you can say Charles Dickens.

Nonsense. You're comparing apples to oranges. Open source is not a charity. It's a business model. You use open source to make money. If you are only interested in the social benefits of free software, you're in FOSS, not open source.

I don't know what Amazon.com head Jeff Bezos is thinking here. It could be he wants to be Bill Gates, building a truly gigantic enterprise then giving it all away so he can change the world. Or not. Maybe he wants to be John Galt.

Maybe he wants to give it all to his kid. Maybe the kid will be the family Rockefeller. Or not.

The point is how you make your money and how you spend it are different subjects. This is true for corporations as well as individuals.

Just don't write off your open source contributions as charity, OK?

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