Ariel Costas

Free Software is not about price

By Ariel Costas - June 10, 2021

When talking about Free Software, people tend to relate it to gratis software, that means, software you don’t need to pay for. However, Free Software is about freedom. Those freedoms are the following:

  1. The freedom to run the program for any purpose, and in any way you want.
  2. The freedom to study the source code, and modify it to fit your needs.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies of the program.
  4. The freedom to redistribute your modified version of the program.

Some licenses also are copyleft, which means in case you redistribute a modified version, it must have the same license. So, if I take a program licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and make a derivate work, I must also share that work under GPL.

However, some people don’t seem to understand that difference between libre and gratis, which leads to the following question: can you sell Free Software? Can you really make a living from Free Software?

There are many examples of companies and individuals who live from this. But instead, soydevs and people influenced by big tech insist on saying that living from Free Software is not possible. Let’s give some ideas on how to earn money:

Enterprise support

There are multiple examples of GNU/Linux distributions that sell support from their maintainer company: Red Hat (RHEL), SUSE (SLES), Canonical (Ubuntu’s Livepatch).

Also from software maintainers, like curl’s maintainer Daniel Stenberg, currently working for wolfSSL providing paid support for curl.

Managed hosting

You can provide managed hosting for your own free/libre program. Let’s say you create a Git server software, and people can run their own instances at their servers. But what if they don’t own a server or don’t want to have to maintain it?

You as the developer could provide managed instances to clients for a price. That involves setting up an automatic system to do it, or handle it manually, but it could make you some money.

Setting up / customizing for your client

Let’s say someone builds a CMS based on PHP and MySQL, and it becomes very famous. People who have the skills to customize it for their own purposes could do it without problems. But what about people who can’t?

You could offer your paid service to help those individuals or companies to customize that CMS and get paid for it. It’s still Free Software, but it’s a good way to make money (many people already do).

Develop custom solutions

There are many companies and individuals that do consulting jobs, which consist on developing custom solutions for clients' needs. Your client tells you what to do, you build it and deliver it to your client.

But what if you asked to release it as Free Software? The society could benefit from that work, and you could profit from it too, as your client needs it and there are no solutions already for whatever they want.

But… what about competition

In support, hosting and customization there can always be competitors (as it’s Free Software anyone can use, study, modify and redistribute), but as you’re the maintainer, you have an advantage: who better than the developer to provide things related to their software?

#software #freedom