When Open Source software get nothing in return

There have been a lot of success stories of big governmental organizations switching to Open Source solutions to cut down costs. The latest one doing the rounds: French Gendarmerie switching to Ubuntu and cutting down IT costs by an impressive 40%.

Using an open source desktop lowers the total cost of ownership by 40%, in savings on proprietary software licences and by reducing costs on IT management. Using Ubuntu Linux massively reduces the number of local technical interventions, says Major Stéphane Dumond. “The direct benefits of saving on licences are the tip of the iceberg. An industrialised open source desktop is a powerful lever for IT governance.”

All’s well and good when you put it in the perspective of such organizations. But, what does the Open Source software community get in return? Some good name and a gentle pat in the back. Is that enough? Not much really.

There was a slight compensation when the German city of Munich reportedly were planning to distribute free CDs of Ubuntu 12.04 to its residents. That’s a step forward but certainly not good enough. Why I say it’s not good enough is because they can do more – a lot more than what they are currently doing.

Since these organizations will more than likely have their own support team and not rely on purchasing support contracts, the only reasonable source of revenue via clients buying support contracts for Open Source software gets blocked.

Now, if we can get them to exercise some Corporate Social Responsibility, all of us can have a happy ending. For a start, they can maybe donate a part of their savings to a FOSS organization or a company. I believe that’s reasonable and fair for all sides.

If that sounds too much, hiring a developer or two and getting them to work on their upstream software is a good bargain at the least.

It’s possible I don’t have a full picture of what the organizations do with their savings. And I would be very glad if they do share my thoughts on how they can benefit Open Source that benefit them. After all, that’s the underlying philosophy behind Open Source.


Author: jokerdino

Ubuntu member. Ask Ubuntu moderator.

13 thoughts on “When Open Source software get nothing in return”

  1. I’m not an expert on this one,
    but i think the gendarmerie has contribute to some softwares like Thunderbird, they maintain there own Ubuntu based distrib : GendBuntu.
    And part of the return ubuntu have is indirect: it’s another proof that this is possible, it even cost less money and it works!

    Ubuntu also get a nice ad everywhere in the specialized and not specialized news…

    Btw i found an article saying that they are cooperating with canonical to get/give feedback … so it’s not all that bad 🙂

    For me it’s a good news even though it could be better 🙂

    1. Interesting. I never heard of one GendBuntu. Exposure of Ubuntu in the media is good too.

      While I am happy about the whole development, the open source enthusiast in me was slightly disappointed.

  2. «But, what does the Open Source software community get in return?»

    We get their self-interest.

    «If that sounds too much, hiring a developer or two and getting them to work on their upstream software is a good bargain at the least.»

    That’s exactly what they’ll want to do, not out of guilt or kindness, but because there are things that needs to be improved. They might not make a big deal of it though. They’re users, not advocates. But that makes their claims even more impressive.

    1. I see where you are getting at. They really have no obligation to pay it forward (as you say) and I am not compelling them to or even appeal to morality.

      I just wanted to start a discussion on the matter and I guess I have succeeded doing that.

    1. Yes, I assume they have their own support team instead of buying a support contract. It’s a reasonable assumption because most governmental organisations wouldn’t want an outsider into their system. If they do do as you seem to suggest, that’s plenty great.

  3. “Since these organizations will more than likely have their own support team and not rely on purchasing support contracts, the only reasonable source of revenue via clients buying support contracts for Open Source software gets blocked.”

    You see, that has always been the greatest problem with Open Source: There is no viable business model behind it. Richard Stallman’s suggestions for the business side of Open Source have always been nothing more than a laugh: Selling T-Shirts, charging for CDs, selling support. Especially the latter – charging for support – is almost cynical when you are a one man shop; you want to write software, not spend your time on giving technical support for your support just to be able to put food on the table and pay the bills.

    There is a simple truth why companies like Open Source software: They don’t have to pay for it. Full stop and end of story.

    The moment they have to spend money on software, they prefer “commercial” solutions, for a couple of reasons: Firstly, there is somebody they can sue when something goes wrong. That’s corporate thinking, plain and simple. Secondly, if they have to pay for something, then they want something that’s well known and established, that’s worth the money and that reduces the TCO. Whoever still claims that Open Source products have a lower TCO than commercial products needs a reality check.

    Open Source generally only works for companies who already have staff on the payroll that can maintain it. And there are not nearly as many Linux people on the job market as the Linux community wishes to believe. Open Source solutions are generally not nearly as polished as commercial/proprietary products and need much more, let’s say, “daily care”. Cacti would be an awesome example for this — this little gem has been driving me nuts for the last five years. But you see, I’m already on the payroll so nobody cares enough to shell out the money for something like PRTG.

    There’s a simple lesson to be learned here for advocates who think that people should give something back when they use Open Source software: We don’t live in a communistic utopia, but in a capitalistic world. If you don’t want someone to use your product without giving something back, then don’t give it away for free. A gift is a gift, not a lease or a loan.

    Also, just as a side-note that might sound cynical and sarcastic, but isn’t meant to be: You never hear people who put their work under a BSD- or MIT-license have this discussion. You also never hear people who put their work in the public domain discuss this topic. This phenomenon only seems to appear in the GPL community; the rest just seems to know what they’re doing when they Open Source their stuff and don’t complain about it.

    1. You hit the proverbial nail when you say we don’t live in an Utopian world. What is ideal and preferable is not what actually happens because we have been trained to maximize profits at any cost. Still, of course though, everyone has their mouths open with their own Great Expectations.

      And your observation about the BSD / MIT community vs GPL community is fascinating if not entertaining. It could very well be true considering how open each licenses really are. How does the Apache license perform in this regard?

  4. I have contributed a lot with testing that I could have bought several Microsoft-Licenses with the same money – and I am considering myself as a very contributor.

    Apart from that, one of the major ideas of the open source world is: Pay for work and not for the permission to use. You are also not paying your plumber for the fact of having tubes in your wall. You call and pay him when there is something to fix.

    1. I like your plumber and pipe analogy. But then, most open source software license gives the user the freedom to decide if they want to contribute in any way they like to, if they choose to contribute at all. It’s the way of life, no matter how much we discuss it. :/

  5. Since they have a role of instructing people at their organisation(s), they could as well try to instruct the users on how to reach a developer and communicate a problem or an idea to him effectively. This would broaden the social and cultural base of the free software movement. Imagine the “whoa”-effect if people realized they can have real influence on the software they have to use on a daily basis.

    Still, this does nothing to provide better funding, I concur.

  6. It’s interesting that you put “Ubuntu” and “open source community” in on sentence. A sentence about getting return. You should ask why open source community received next to nothing from Ubuntu.

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