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Maybe We Should Charge For Linux

Jun 13, 2008, 22:30 (43 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Yesterday, I took a day off and did something I've been wanting to do ever since I moved back to my hometown in northern Indiana: I took my youngest daughter to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

The day was hot, but other than that a perfect introduction to major league ball. I did a little hunting on eBay and splurged for some front-row tickets near home plate. The tickets were pricey--a far cry from the prices I used to pay when my high school friends and I would take the train over to Wrigley and catch an afternoon game back in the 80s.

Granted, I never used to sit that close to the field back then, but the equivalent seats today from where I used to sit were pretty far up the price ladder.

Of course, it's easy to blame the players for their ridiculously high salaries for the huge upswing in ticket prices. But as a matter of course, I wonder if the fans share some of the blame too. After all if they (myself included) are consistently willing to pay the prices for the tickets, then clearly this is what the market will bear.

It got me wondering about all the various reasons why Linux is promoted, and how being free is in beer (one would think) should be a huge draw. But, as history shows, while being free (gratis) is an advantage, it has not brought people over in waves. When people come to Linux, they cite other advantages first, and sometimes mention the gratis part only as an after-thought.

I am not the only one who's noted this. There has always been the concern that "gratis" means "cheap." This is not the case in Linux's situation, but nonetheless the idea is a pervasive one. Indeed, commercial vendors like Red Hat and Novell have been more than willing to put a price tag on Linux to sell to customers. Of course, this is actually a fee for support, but if support fees also give the impression that people are paying something for software, who are these vendors to disabuse them of the idea?

So here's my idea: perhaps the Linux community should, as a group, start charging a fee for all distros. Nothing big, mind you. Something like US$20.

Put the pitchforks and torches away; I think this could work. You see, if people are paying for something, even if it's a small amount, they may hold it in higher value than something they got for free. It gives them bragging rights so to speak: "I got a copy of Vista on sale!" "Oh yeah? I got a better operating system and I only spent 20 bucks!"

Now, of course that line could read "Oh yeah? I got a better operating system and I didn't spend a dime!" right now, but then you get the wags who come back with "sure, and it's probably worth nothing, too."

The fee (whatever it is) could go towards the developers' costs (coders eat, too). Or, if the call of coding for freedom's sake is still too strong, donate the money to a favorite charity. The idea here is to attach a monetary value to Linux, which may change users' minds about the quality of something that's gratis.

One thing to note is this addition of a fee does not have to be permanent. After a while of attracting those with the mindset of quality is something you have to pay for. Let some distros cut their prices, or go back to being gratis again. Then you'll get this conversation:

"I got a copy of Linux for $20!" "Oh yeah? I got a copy for $5!"

And so on. Once enough of a threshold of users comes on board and validates Linux true worth (and it ain't the price tag), the momentum would build and migration would be on a sharper upward trend.

In the meantime, some revenue comes in for the Linux community to use as they want, perhaps giving some distro makers the incentive to do their Linux world full-time.

Crazy? Like a fox! But easily done.