Sunday, February 6, 2011

The economy of Free software

There has been some chatter on free software, and I've had thoughts I'd like to share and discuss these bits of knowledge.

Competing with giants

Due to Microsoft's and Apple's dominance, you can't expect to raise funding to build a competing operating system any time soon. You have a better chance to build a car company than compete with either of those companies. If you want to make an OS now, then you need to pick a niche and build it and hope the niche buys in or you need to give it away for free.

This is the nature of software since software is like cake with multiple layers compounded on each other. Once business gets in bed with a layer, its probably not going to change for a long-long time. So, if you want to compete and compel people to use your cake, then you have to give it away and think long term rather than short term.

Building a business off of support is long-term thinking. Most people think short-term, so we run into "oh, its free and solve my problems today? I'll use it". They don't know better, nor should they know better. If Free Software gets them to the next step, then awesome. Aside: I like this model best because I've never liked taking money from people who are going to fail.

This is how Linux has propagated to dominance in the server sector. Linux didn't have to make a sales effort on managers or marketers. Linux just had to sell geeks that would have to support this stuff in the field and transition their education into Linux. The people who build software on Linux then give back and support it by hiring people to maintain their shit.

It doesn't matter which route you go (Windows, Sun, Linux), the business has to foot the bill to pay someone to run it. Free software enables software via a community rather a corporate interest.

Free software enables communities to compete against companies.

Software as a marketing channel

If you are smart, then your work will speak for itself. Free software is a great way to sell yourself in the geek arena; it's your marketing collateral.

If you make something free and 10 people use it, then great. That's 10 people that know you exist. Now imagine if 1000 people use it? What about a million?

GitHub enables a geek hiring revolution; that's basically my resume now rather than some crufty document. The AppStore/AndroidMarket is the same for product/application developers. Get your product in the hands of people today and start learning how to make their lives better.

Me-too, Me-too

Many companies have "me-too-ism" where they want everything customized under the sun to fit their brand. I think this sucks. However, it creates a lot of IT jobs since that "me-too" usually requires re-inventing a lot of the same wheels.

Open source and Free software enables the IT workers to work collaboratively rather than competitively. While this may limit the "me-too-ism" on the business end, it does enable IT to save a lot of time and be really lazy (which is the point of computing, right?). To the point, there isn't enough IT workers in the world to satisfy the true desire for "Me-too-ism".

If you give software away, then other people will jump on it and support it for their organization and make it work. This will make projects go faster, and it will make everyone happier.

A perfect example of this is Ruby on Rails. If DHH didn't release it, then he would be in a cave somewhere writing stupid code to fix stupid problems rather than talking at conferences. Either that, or he would have abandoned it. By making Rails free, it enabled the community to endorse it, sell it, and support it.

That being said,

You get what you pay for.

If you don't know software, then you are kind of screwed. If you go with non-free software, then you have to hire someone that endorses that model. If you go with free software, then you have to hire someone that endorses that model. My pro tip: hire the best you can and let them pick.

1 comment:

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