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Would you pay for Open Source Software

by sbc on July 30th, 2012

Recently Peter Toft wrote a blog entry (in Danish) entitled Hånden på hjertet: Vil du betale for Open Source?, which roughly translates into
Honestly, would you pay for Open Source?

The blog post and the associated comments are all in Danish, but those who answered yes can be split into three groups (I’m generalizing a bit here, read the comments, if you want the details)

  • Yes, and I do occasionally. Either through one-time donations or buying merchandise.
  • Yes, and I have some sort of monthly subscription/membership, like jointhegame.kde.org/ or FSF.
  • Yes, but I don’t know where to throw my money.
    If I had to support the development of all the (open source) software I use, it would ruin me, because I use so many open source programs. If there was a central place I could pay, and have my money distributed, that would work for me.

I myself belong in the first category, mainly through merchandise purchases.
But I must admit that I do share some of the thoughts of the people in the last category. If I want to donate my money to pay for developer hours and I don’t want the hassle of shopping around, to locate and distribute money to all the many projects deserving support, where do I go?

So I would like to bring Peters question to the wider audience of Planet Ubuntu. (If you found this blog post through some other means, feel free to share your thoughts as well).

Would you pay for Open Source Software?

If yes, what would/do you pay for?
A specific product, monthly subscriptions, merchandise or something else?

If no, why not?
Is free the most important aspect of Free Software?
Are there to many places to throw your money, so you choose not to at all?

Would you be interested in donating to some sort of foundation, whose sole purpose it was to pay Open Source developers to work full time on what ever project they were working on?
Photo by: Philip Taylor

14 Comments
  1. someone permalink

    What a first world way of think.

    For me free software projects, have a great thing: equality.

    Pay or donate to support projects “if I can”, perfect.

    Monthly subscriptions and freemium… mmm… no DFSG… no free as in freedom.

    Oh… Ubuntu… African names are so cool… but the default desktop requirements are not aligned with child dying each second.

    Too many people that thinks everything is perfect around companies.

  2. Peder Madsen permalink

    To a certain extent, I have started to use flattr.com for donations to Open Source projects. But unfortunately only a small handful of projects support this way of providing financial support.

  3. I have always tried to find something to toss some money at each month out of the array of OSS I use. I use so much that there’s no way to pay for it all, but rotating around helping out projects at least makes me feel better.

    Recently, I’ve started to use http://gittip.com to setup repeated weekly donations to some of the developers I use projects from. What’s nice is that it regular and automatic, but again I need to go in once in a while and rotate around the people getting my donations.

  4. Niklas Rosenqvist permalink

    I’ve had an idea for a couple of days now of a “Code supporter” web service. Think of it as Flattr – using a flat rate you specify, could be $20 a month – and you can support the developers by adding them to your monthly “code supporter”-donation list. At the end of the month your $20 gets split up between the coders you have set up to get donations. This way you can easily have control over your economy and just as easily specify who and what should get a share.

    Anyone else sharing this vision? :)

  5. 1. You can pay for your open source software in any number of ways, but the BEST way to pay is by contributing. While people continue to look at currency as a direct analogy to time, it is not. The time you spend learning about a project to the extent necessary to contribute is valuable time as it makes you a better advocate, user, and contributor. Your time is worth more than your money.

    2. If there was a fair and well-established fund for all open source software that could effectively allocate funds to the most deserving open source projects (by some open and meaningful standard), I would happily contribute a monthly sum.

    As it is, I contribute to projects that I think are particularly useful or on the brink of being so, but I feel much more satisfied with time contributions.

  6. Benjamin kay permalink

    I think the keyword here is “pay” v.s. “donate”. The word “pay” implies getting some sort of exclusive benefit in return. With commercial software, that exclusive benefit is the software itself, but this revenue model is incompatible with the open-source development model.

    The typical OSS revenue model is professional support. Would I pay for this? It would depend on availability and price. At the Enterprise level, I would need a large rollout of OSS on my system to justify buying professional support. At the PC level, I would happily buy my grandmother 9-5 phone support if it were available for < $100/year, which it is not for any Linux distro that I know of. (Nor would it necessarily be sustainable at such a price.)

    As for me personally? I would like to pay a distro (e.g. Debian) and/or large project (e.g. KDE, gcc) an annual fee to help support development. In return, I would like the ability to "sponsor" a certain number of bugs a year, with the option to pay an additional fee to sponsor additional bugs. I've noticed a lot of serious bugs that go months, even years without attention due mostly to lack of manpower and/or developer interest. It would be nice to pay an organization with a few developers on payroll to address those important but not-very-glamarous bugs that impact my user experience.

  7. Thomas Kluyver permalink

    Intuitively I like the idea of a foundation supporting people working on open source projects. It needn’t necessarily be just coders, the foundation could pay documentation writers, translators, professional designers. But it would need an accepted way of deciding which projects get how much funding.

    Perhaps the most similar programme existing is Google Summer of Code, where Google pay hundreds of students to spend their summer holidays contributing to open source projects. But Google are spending their own money, not collecting donations.

    Some quick thoughts:
    – The market is good at getting more money for products which many people use, and which people value highly. Should a funding scheme try to replicate this?
    – Perhaps funding should be driven by the need for future work, rather than past success. But can we avoid funding lots of dead-end projects that never take off?
    – On sites like Kickstarter, glamorous user-facing projects will find it easier to get funding than the libraries & components they use. Can we balance that out?

    Finally, involving money can cause resentment – as in the issue over Amazon referral fees for Banshee in Ubuntu. Maybe paying individuals to work on projects, rather than donating to projects directly, would ease that kind of tension.

  8. Markus permalink

    I can’t pay for every project/program which I use and like. But for me it is important to support the Free Software ecosystem as a whole. Therefore I’m a Fellow of FSFE (fellowship.fsfe.org), I joined the game (jointhegame.kde.org) and I’m a member of the “Chaos Computer Club” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_Computer_Club).

    With these three memberships I support the bases of Free Software and a free information society. Beside that I buy merchandise articles from time to time if I’m at a Free Software conference.

  9. Stoffe permalink

    Like others already has said, Flattr seems a good way to go for #3. The job is to get projects to join the program so we can, well, flattr them.

  10. Andrew M permalink

    I don’t really pay for a lot of free software but that isn’t to say i would if i could. One of my main pain points is keeping software up to date that isn’t directly supported by the distro.

    For example asterisk in debian stable is version 1.6 i think ..which is no longer supported by the asterisk community. As far as I know the upstream project doesn’t patch security issues and i’m not entirely sure that it is supported from a security perspective in debian.. i’m almost certain that it’s not supported security wise in ubuntu given it’s not in ‘main’.

    So an immediate thought for a subscription based business model is to provide me with a user/pass and an apt repo to get up to date access to binary builds for the most common distributions.

    I’d be quite happy to subscribe to that service.

  11. trampster permalink

    I think each Free software project should have a backlog of bugs/feature requests, Users should be able to buy voting points. The user can then spend those voting points on the bugs and features that they want worked on.

    The project would priorities there backlog based on the amount of votes

    When the is feature is implemented or the bug fixed the project receives the payment equal to the number of votes.

  12. I have supported FLOSS through donations myself. I plan to do more. I want to think about where it makes the most difference.

    Factors that I want to have:
    * matching. I want some way that my donation is connected to encouraging others to donate as well
    * awareness of need
    * trust that developers will spread the wealth if they happen to be in a position for the most public awareness but actually rely heavily on upstream software
    * I would like to pay to have extra votes on feature requests

  13. It generally semms that flattr and gittip are the best options if you want to get donations directly to the developers.
    It still leaves the work of finding the right people to flattr/tip each month, but it seems that’s the way it is.

    @Chris:
    ime is great (and I do spend quite a bit of my time on Open Source), but as a user what I am confronted with is rarely the underlying stuff.
    I am rarely aware of what the libraries and the kernel itself is doing, but that is properly some of the Open Source Software that I ‘use’ the most, I just don’t notice it, when browsing a webpage or resizing an image.

    @Benjamin
    I think you are right with regards to pay vs. donate. I should maybe have used the word donate in the blog-post.

  14. I would say it differently: If the software is free to use or if I have to buy it, a core requirement to ensure security of the investment and return of investment will be, that the source code comes with the product. – Again: Whether I need to buy it or not, the source code is essential.

    Currently I tend to write software tools on my own or for the company I work for, simply because when using 3rd-party stuff (paid or not), I am mostly left alone when it comes to problems or time to solve is extremely long. A major risk when implementing projects at customers. So having the source code means, I can help myself when is needed.

    Anyway, if I pay for the software or not – the time to learn the thing and get into it, is also to be considered as investment – no matter if the product itself needs to be bought or is free.

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