Apr 11, 2008

Profiting From Open Source

Believe it or not, there is a way! As we all know, you can give the software away for free - even the code - and then make people pay for support. Red Hat has been doing this for years, looks like Canonical is doing it too. And why not? Linux (and lots of other open-source software like Apache, MySQL, etc.) definitely have a learning curve to them, and many people need help along the way. While there is a vast community out there and plenty of documentation, you don't always have time to search for it, dig through all the search results, etc. to find what you need. Try searching for iPod rhythmbox on Ubuntu Forums, most of the results are either people asking about amarok or telling people to switch to amarok (I should probably take a hint here) or of course the various people who feel the need to tell the world they're switching back to Windows. Note that although I had an easy time with iPods and Rhythmbox, my roommate did not have such an easy time with her Nano.

The point is, sometimes what you're looking for is either difficult or impossible to find. You could post something in a forum about it, but most of the time you'll either get flamed by an elitist Linux guru or somebody will give you a fix that probably won't work for you (I'm still trying to get my printer to work again after my last kernel update). Either way, this takes as much if not more time than searching through existing posts about the problem. That is where support comes in. You give a call to someone who is paid to help you immediately. This is a huge bonus when it comes to businesses, where you need things fixed ASAP.

Now the economist in me yells out, spouting things like "incentive" and "price discrimination". There is some incentive here for the developers/maintainers to keep the program hard to use in order to keep making some cash. While the application is open-source and eventually somebody is going to create a nice GUI front-end, you'll probably have a few years before anybody makes something functional and talked-about enough to be widely adopted.
There's also price discrimination, in that an advanced user will probably never use the support, a pseudo-advanced user (no pun intended) might only use the support once in a while, but an inexperienced/dumb/lazy user will have to pay through the nose for it. Unfortunately, this is probably not a safe long-term investment, because eventually that somebody is going to make a nice easy-to-use front-end for the program.

The more I use it, the more I love open source. It's just so much easier sometimes.

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