Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Free Lunch

There's no such thing! Or so we're told.

As I majored in Physics in the far off long ago, I' m inclined to agree with that sentiment. Conservation of energy is a pretty ingrained concept.

(Or maybe it's just natural laziness! ;-)

So, no free lunch, as I:
  • install Linux as a dual boot on my home PC
  • work with Python
  • use Google to look up all sorts of items of interest
  • read online books
  • download some mp3 tracks (not that I do, actually)
  • write another entry in this 'blog.
...Wait a second! What's going on here?

Who's paying for all this???

(It sure isn't me!)

Reading the news (another freebie) , I see I'm not alone, as traditional capitalists puzzle over how to make a buck out of this phenomenon. The hip and with it dismiss their frustrated rants with smug comments like:
'those suits just can't grok it!'
Well, I 'm not entirely sure I grok it either, and I'm not a suit, and I know where the word 'grok' originates.*
The greeting sentiment at the GNU site reads:
'Free as in Freedom'
Others proclaim the Open Source movement to be:
'Free as in speech, not as in beer!'
In other words, the sentiment is that it is a right to be able to give away your code. It's OK to have others look at your source and tweak to your own ends. However, this doesn't mean you can rip it off and pass it off as your own software. Nor does it necessarily mean you can use this code commercially.

Actually, it seems that most OSS offerings are free in both senses. The developers presumably got what they wanted out of it, and are happy to share their achievements with others.

I can appreciate that there's a certain pride of craftmanship in presenting a solution for others to share and, in a sense, this is part of the answer to my question. You use. You should contribute. (Might do just that, one day)

Other sites request a tip via eg: PayPal. I don't mind the sentiment here, just the means...

That doesn't answer the question fully, though: who pays the hard cash for the maintenance of online hosts like SourceForge, Tigris, OSF, BlogSpot. etc etc?

Advertising? Ah! I suppose that is one answer. You get to do what you want in return for having to endure someone's pitch on whatever.

But I'm not fully convinced. I, for one, filter out most ads without even thinking about it. I can't believe they have a sufficiently high take up rate to make it pay (I'm talking online ads who presumably pay up front costs to the sites for the privilege: I know the outlay on spam is next to nothing, so it needs barely any response to make it worthwhile)

The ruminations will continue ...
* grok: a martian word whose literal meaning is 'to share water' but whose deeper nuances would take a whole book to explain: a book like 'Stranger in a Strange Land' by Robert Heinlein


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