Is Free and Open Source Software a cashless ATM?
It is being argued around some quarters that free and open source software (FOSS) takes away the motivation for people to develop software, because they will not be able to make a living from it. The error in this system of reasoning is that it is thought that money or profit is the main (or only) motivation for developing software. Making it as if anybody that want to write any piece of code must only think of one thing — money (Even though MONEY is very important). Forgetting that people can developing for any retinue of reasons; for instance to improve a system or provide a quick solution to a problem.
So if somebody decides to make software and then give it away does that make the person lame? No! It just depends on the person’s personal motivation. A very good example is the Linux kernel itself. It was developed when a young boy decided he wanted something different, and he set out to make it happen and he invited other who were interested and willing to improve the code. The fact that many software developers joined him showed that money is not the only motivation to develop software — even though they were not paid.
The Linux kernel has proven to be one of the most important (and successful) software project in the world today that powers devices ranging from building-sized servers to tiny watches on your wrists. Twenty five years after, it is still growing.
If developing countries decide to use free (as in freedom) software there would be tons of programmers that would want to develop software applications that are free also. This is because FOSS provide avenue for users to become programmers in the first place unlike in operating system (OS) platforms like windows where users are not expected to look under the hood — to change any code. Giving every potential user an assumed dummy status!
Secondly, the “free” in free software is about “freedom” as in freedom as in “free speech”, not necessary as in “free drink”. It means that you could still make money from “free software” and yet be open source.
How can a poor (I mean developing) country pay for large license fees for software when they have less cash to spend. Or why would they depend on a foreign proprietary corporation to determine what they can do or not with their software? That looks like colonialism to me, yeah, software colonialism.
It is true that in countries like the USA many people (not all) are willing to pay large amount to buy a piece of software. But that is not true in a country like Nigeria, where they are gotten for almost free or very cheap. For example, in Nigeria, Microsoft operating systems like Windows 7, 8 and the latest 10 cost about four hundred (400) Naira, which is about 0.89 dollars. Of course these are pirated copies on DVD.
Experience has shown that piracy is very high in developing countries. Majorly because many of them are far from the watchful eye of the developing (software) company and/or the cost prosecuting an anti-piracy war would be costly and unrealistic.
So if money is the main (and only) motivating force for the development of software, its piracy in developing countries makes such a stance useless or ineffective. And it is obvious that most people anywhere prefer things for free (as in free drink). Then why not offer Free and open source software that would guarantee high quality software for as little or nothing.
In addition if the Nigerian people are truly forced, by whatever means, to stop using pirated proprietary software, the realistic option would be to switch to free software. And it would now be either developers open source their software where they can be developed into quality software or then find something to do with their life.
Finally if you don’t like the avenues available for you, as a software developer, to make money in FOSS. You can choose the proprietary (non-free) route. But to say that any FOSS is lame or its proponents are delusional is just too imbecilic and delusional in itself. Everybody in the world is free to express whatever opinions they hold anyway. And most importantly life is a choice …so why would the type of software an individual decide to use not be?
No reason for the fuss (pun intended)…!
First Published in FossNaija.com