Free is too expensive (Economist)
Posted Apr 7, 2012 0:25 UTC (Sat) by rqosa
In reply to: Free is too expensive (Economist)
Parent article: Free is too expensive (Economist)
> > But users like those are unlikely to contribute to the development of the programs they use, and the entire purpose of FLOSS is to make it possible for every user to become a developer.
> Wrong. I can download VisualStudio Express (for free!) and start developing Windows Phone applications in 3 minutes. With nice tutorials, great help system and one of the best IDEs.
But that doesn't let you develop Windows Phone itself, nor the platform API libraries bundled with it, nor the majority of applications for it. And it really is true that the core purpose of FLOSS is to let every user become a developer of the software that they use.
As a consequence, in FLOSS, "user-friendliness" doesn't just mean making it easy to use the software, it also means making it easy to develop the software. Because (in all but a few of the biggest projects) no one is being paid to work on the software, the project needs to recruit new volunteer developers from its user base, or else it will die. That's why having a Windows-like situation of "you must support old technology (often decade old technology) thus development is nightmare" in the name of easy backwards compatibility would be bad for FLOSS, even if it did succeed in attracting more users.
> 1 million users would be able to sponsor (say) 100 full-time professional developers, artists, testers, help writers.
I won't believe it's possible for a FLOSS project to fund 100 full-time professional developers with donations from end-users until I see it, and I haven't seen it yet. (The project that's closest to what you describe is probably Linux itself, which has hardware manufacturers employing developers, but that business model won't work for the vast majority of projects.)
> one day you might find yourself without open hardware capable of running your OS.
That's a real problem, but the fundamental cause of it is that the majority of users don't see why locked-down hardware is a bad thing for them — it prevents them from developing the software they use, but that's not something they would do anyway, so why should they care? (They actually should care, for reasons such as avoiding lock-in, having a larger base of developers, having the possibility that the developers may fork the software in case of a bad mantainer, … but these reasons aren't readily apparent to someone who doesn't know anything about software development.) You seem to be suggesting that attracting users who don't care about being able to develop the software they use to Linux will help ensure the future availability of open hardware, but I don't believe it — I think it would more likely lead to a locked-down hardware platform that runs Linux (and maybe this even already exists, in the form of locked-down Android devices).
to post comments)