Why can’t we just charge for open source infrastructure?
Nadia Eghbal

We need a definition check regarding the term ‘infrastructure’.

1. the basic, underlying framework or features of a system or organization.
2. the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants,and schools.

By these definitions, I certainly can imagine AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud Services, … as constituting ‘infrastructure.’ And, for use of this infrastructure, one DOES indeed get charged.

In order to come up with a term other than ‘infrastructure’, one needs to answer a few questions:

  1. Why is (open source) software infrastructure distinct and different from the compute, network and storage infrastructure for which one expects to pay a price for consumption?
  2. What distinguishes open source software from software available only under a commercial license, with commercial constraints on its use or further distribution?
  3. Should we not also make certain to include another form … “software as a service”, in which the on-going operation, administration and management of the software (whether open source or not), is the responsibility of another party?

This last question is a ringer and is one my favorite ‘slippery slopes.’

I suggest that we need to look to the complex aspects of the economics of information, and consider the notion of a ‘commons’ or ‘utility software’ as a form of open source software which is important enough / popular enough to be ‘created in full view’ (transparency), to be used under a license that encourages the advance of the software and its quality, but which also warrants some commercial support and warrants governance.

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