Some time ago one of the legends of Simple Machines was asked if a free program could stand its ground against something that costs hundreds of dollars. The answer in short: for sure! But there's more to it than just those little words. So why is free better?
[Unknown], former Simple Machines Lead Developer
The idea of open source is simple and sweet; it is not an idea of communism or socialism like its critics sometimes say.
You see, throughout commerce and money-making, there are a few important things people have found make them money:
- The customer being treated well, such that they will come back and recommend the product and/or services to their friends.
- More people knowing about the product (advertising) and being able to get use out of it.
Further, it has been concluded that the following contribute to those goals:
- Being able to modify the code such that you can change anything you don't like about the product, given motivation.
- Having the opportunity to receive the product and/or service for free or at the least possible cost.
Why are these two things important? Because if the software is free, anyone can download it. If anyone can download it, then anyone who could possibly get use out of the product has a chance to use it, however much money they may have. These people then contribute by referring other people (who can also get it for free) and by:
- Creating and developing solutions to other peoples problems, such as modifications, which are also open source.
- Developing advocacy for the software because it is well written and well maintained.
So, in other words, by not charging for the software, and by even letting anyone download it... we increase the yield. Marketing strategy. We also develop advocacy much better and stronger (there are people who like paid products too, just not as strongly in most cases) than otherwise. We're adding significant fuel to the fire that is the project.
Most small business that don't fail in their first few years operate on a net loss, as is commonly known. If you want to make money, it's going to be in the long run not the short. Open source is just a widening of this; if we have a million users (0.5% of which paid), and you have only 100 ones (who all paid, and more) we still got more money than you did. 100 * 100 < 5000 * 50.
There's also the point of support. As we do here, most open source projects charge for advanced support. While this isn't for everyone, this is how they make money. The idea is to grow the client base from which the few paid ones come; again my numbers above.
Another very important and often ignored point is education. How hard is it to enter the programming market? Not that easy in some cases. Sure, you can go on Google and learn some things... but you're still a yellow novice. No one would hire you like that! Open source is a way people who aren't quite experts yet can grow and expand their knowledge such that they can become attractive employees. Yes, they're offering their software to you for free.... but you're offering to use and test it, and give them legitimacy for free too! They're giving you products, and you're increasing their resume.
It's barter, and it's done everywhere on this planet. Just because open source does it so well that it's starting to threaten "paid" companies like Microsoft only proves how good a strategy it is. If it weren't, if it weren't a gain to people... it wouldn't happen.
We're not crazy hippies, us open source people... we're programmers and I at least am a big fan of the free market.