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Why Making Money from Free Software Matters

Apr 27, 2010, 00:03 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Glyn Mody)

"Free software began as a political movement: its central aim was – and remains – the propagation of freedom. Later, it became a development methodology too, largely at the hands of Linus, whose geographical isolation in Finland forced him to develop ways of using the Internet to coordinate a new kind of massive, but decentralised, global collaboration. Later still, free software also became a way of making serious money – something that Stallman has repeatedly said he is quite happy with, contrary to much FUD claiming otherwise.

"Few would deny the importance of the first two aspects of free software – as an ideology and as a methodology – but the future impact of its business model is probably under-appreciated. And yet in its own way, that aspect is just as revolutionary as the other two.

"Businesses based around free software have to address a central conundrum: how is it possible to make money from something that by definition is freely available? Richard Stallman himself provided an example of how that might be done, when he started selling GNU Emacs on tapes – at $150 a time. This meant he was financially independent during the early days of the GNU project – a crucial development for him, as he told me in 1999:"

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