FLOSS model: All you ever wanted to know, and were afraid to read

First, take it or leave it.

FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) can be seen in two different ways. Both are good ways, but I mostly gonna focus on how corporations view it. I'm not gonna say something new, but I will summarize in very short setences my understanding of FLOSS after having read many papers and documents from GNU philosophy (mostly Richard Stallman), Bruce Perens, Joel Spolsky, and Eric Raymond. I can also speak from the inside for one of the two ways.

So what are those two ways?

  1. FLOSS is fun, free, you learn and all that
  2. FLOSS is an economic model for non-software-centric (in terms of profit) businesses to do their software work.

I will shortly say that 1. is true. And as a CompSci student that visits his University rarely, I have had the mood and the time to use and later contribute to FLOSS in various ways (first as translator of Psi Jabber Client, and later as more than a year everyday programmer for Gajim Jabber client). Becase I dislike amateur work, I ended up to understanding that it's impossible to do professional work without profit. And this leads us to 2.

Economic science is perhaps one of the best ways to accomplish truth (well.. your truth) about a given status and hope that your truth has more in common with the reality (as seen by majority) than less in common. Because being an Microsoft/FLOSS/Redhat whatever hateboy or fanboy with no reason is not my cup of tea, I couldn't resist trying to understand how come FLOSS works and most importantly where it works. Again the answer is not something new, but requires a better understand of FLOSS:

FLOSS is just a way for a group of companies to make together a common software they all use with the lowest risk taken by this common production procedure. Thus FLOSS is bad for software-centric companies, and it's more than healthy that Microsoft attacks it.
This is explained very well (eventhough with some eyecatching typos and some outdate information) in Bruce Perens paper.

In other words, if you are a software company if FLOSS would prevail allover will kill you. But of course FLOSS cannot and will not prevail allover. If you are a small software company it's likely you will continue to have work to do (and receive profit from it) either in providing indoor or otherwise super specialized software, or by customizing FLOSS to meet the needs of the client that hired you to do so. And the last customization is what distro companies are doing, eventhough because the market is very small, not many do it with profit.

FLOSS everywhere also means fewer jobs for software developers. Stallman not only agrees with it, but proposes a software tax. Now in USA the word tax is bad word to economic minds, and that's why nobody speaks about it and chances are you first heard it here. This understanding doesn't imply that I support a software tax.

Now GNU also says that software is common good and all that. That's not the case. Nothing is common good in reality. Some are seen as such because else civilized society cannot work. Software is so new (when compared to clean water, food etc) that nobody outside of a communistic view can be persuaded that software is in fact or needs to be a common good. Rest pundits of OpenSource (it's why GNU disagrees with the term) don't speak about tax and mostly not about common good. Nobody should accuse GNU of speaking about it though, as they don't care about the economics of the model. They are happy it just works and want to see it working better (as they understand better).

But for companies that "get it", FLOSS is great. It means with many times less money they can have the same or almost the same job done. Every company tries to cut costs and FLOSS is the best way to do it when you want to reduce software costs. You also may need less staff working at software if you adopt to a model of adopting a FLOSS to your needs. Even if you as a company want to make something new, either you find some competitors that can work with you on the common base of this new product, or you start your own and you hope that upaid community hackers (or geeks) will do even 1% of your work for you for free. You don't care why, you just wish they do so you can spend less money. If you agree with competitors to do the common software base together and do it as open source you have higher chances to not get trapped in the risk taken. Perens provides his facts on this and proves (in his view) that FLOSS is the way to go for common projects instead of closed-doors boards etc.

Summing up, if you are a software company you can make from FLOSS by customizing it to the needs of the client. And if you are a company that just has an software dept you can (if you really get it, and your staff also gets it) reduce costs. And that's all there is to it. Companies like Redhat or Novell didn't suddenly agree with communism, they just think they have this good way to make money. The fact that you or me can run Fedora or whatever FOR FREE is a "side-effect" of the whole thing and not the target. Eventhough it doesn't really hurt, as even Microsoft is somehow okay with illegal copies of windows in desktop machines (no matter what it lately says) as in the end when you'll work in a a company you'll say to your boss: "I know word, excel" but you didn't buy MSOffice in your house or did you? The same holds true with Fedora or whatever with the exception that with FLOSS you are really not required to buy it.

That's it. sorry for being big, and I don't have the courage to proof read it atm. I also have work to do. Have fun 


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