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Price cannot be forgotten

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 14, 2004 07:31 AM
If you can compare $10 to $100 you can compare $0 to $100. It can, in many cases, make perfect sense to spend money on a solution over a no cost solution. You just have to provide the value in service or functionality that justifies the cost. Why do people buy Red Hat Enterprize Server for $1,000+ when they can download Fedora Core or Debian for no cost? Because they see value in the money spent.

The profit motive is not just important, it never goes away. Free Software development just provides a different profit than money. An independent developer does it for reputation, fun or to improve the world. A business might release or sponsor Free Software to gain good community reputation or free publicity. There many reasons that people and companies do Free Software, all of which provide a percieved benefit to the proponent.

Now, let's talk about other losses.

Employees at a small company are using an outdated, no longer supported office suite and the company wants to upgrade. Ignoring server and back-end database issues, a proprietary option for 35 seats is might be $300 each or $10,500 total. License cost to roll out OpenOffice.org is $0. Now, multiply this Free Software effect for other programs needed: database severs, file servers, operating systems and even little programs like label makers. With the money not spent on licensing, the company can save 10's of thousands of dollars which can be re-invested in the company. This has to be a compelling factor for the small business to consider when choosing between proprietary and Free Software solutions.

The money that would have been spent on the proprietary license does not disappear from the economy as a whole. It gets redirected to other uses like hiring another employee, doing advertizing, or whatever.

Granted, if the only choices were proprietary, the money would stay in the "software segment" of the economy, helping to maintain the percieved value of software. Hardware has already gone through a cycle of commoditization. The dominance (monopolies) of the large software companies has slowed the value errosion for software but that does not mean it has the "right" to remain.

Your objection also depends on a common fallacy. Because propietary programs have companies that market them and make them very visible, it is assumed by many that if you are a programmer, you work on programs that are licenced to others. This is not true. The vast majority of programmers write software that either never leaves the company that pays their salary or is embedded into a tangible product as part of that product. Such programmers will still be needed and valuable even if "retail" software is marginalized by competing Free Software solutions. In other words, as a programmer doing what I currently do, my employer would still need my services and skills even if we deployed and used only Free Software applications. In fact, if my employer used only Free Software solutions, my situation would be better (Profit sharing!).

Obviously licensing cost cannot be the only reason to use or not use proprietary software. But I cannot agree that Free Software will kill the market for software programmers.

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