Users don’t usually realize the value of open source software they get for free. Things like Linux, LibreOffice, Firefox and basically every programming library may be essential in the daily life of each of us. However, we may not actually feel “pleasure” for those software developers who provided us with all of this. They may not feel the value of what they have.
Although we are talking about open source software, it is rightful to note that “free” as in “free coffee” is an inevitable conclusion of “free” as in “freedom”.
If you ask an engineer, a doctor, a professor, a teacher or a farmer to give you one of the products they do for free, probably they will just refuse. You won’t find a professor working full time in a university for free. You won’t find a civil engineer working on building houses for free. You won’t find a farmer giving you vegetables for free. However, you do find software developers giving it for you for free.
Software are not developed by magic. Developing good software requires investing hundreds of hours in it. And although of all of that, we find a huge number of software developers who are ready to create free software for us.
Investing just 100 hours in developing a small tool should worth $1500 (with a minimum wage of $15 per hour). So imagine how much it really costs to invest thousands of hours in such processes.
Let’s make a small comparison.
In a Closed-Source World
Windows 11 Home license today costs $139. This is just the basic operating system. If you are also planning to buy Microsoft Office, then it would cost you $100 per year. Or $10 per month. In total, you would have to pay $219 as a start, and $100 per year.
This is just for your basic bare metal OS and office suite.
However, things may be more costly according to your needs. If you are a designer, then you won’t find any better than Adobe products on Windows. It’s the general standard those days in the industry. It will cost you $50 per month to buy Adobe products bundle, or $600 per year. If you just want to use a single app instead of the whole bundle, then it would cost you $20 per month.
Video editing, programming & development, games and other software all would cost you more. More importantly, even after you pay, you don’t get a free software (as in freedom); you get an EULA to use the software. You can’t see the source code or modify it or share it with a friend.
In other words, these costs only cover one device at a time, and not more. You can’t share the software with your family members or even use it on your other devices.
Even if you use open source software on Windows. You still owe them a big deal when they provide you with a free alternative. There’s a huge list of open source software that work on Windows.
Debian On The Other Hand
In an old 2012 report, it’s estimated that the actual cost of developing all the source packages which are shipped in Debian is roughly $19 billion. This number was depending on the fact that there were 17000 source packages in Debian Wheezy. Each costs around $1.1 million dollar as an average.
Just for a general insight and assuming the average value of each package is still the same, today, Debian 11 Bullseye contains 30952 source packages. Which is equal to $34.047 billion.
It is a quite remarkable achievement that the open source community was able to find a way to provide more then $34B in value, without asking anything back at all from users.
All of this you get for free. For $0. And not just that, you get it for free as in freedom and not just without a price.
Unlike freeware, which are just given without any actual cost, you have the full 4 basic freedoms when you use open source software: You can run, modify, distribute and share the source code with whoever you want according to the license of that code.
Whoever involved in the open source movement should be really, really proud.
Don’t Just Feel Pleasure, Show it
Software by default are not free nowadays. It should be a “big deal” for you if you see a software which is free and open source. It’s not “just yet another nice thing to have”, It’s something huge. It means that someone has just donated hundreds of hours of work for you, free of charge!
That being said, there are a lot of ways which you can use to support FOSS developers:
- Money: You can send them contributions on their PayPal account or via Patreon (if they were there).
- Code: If you were a programmer, you can take a look on the source code of an application to try to improve it.
- Report Bugs: If you see a bug in an open source software, report it. Don’t just close the program and leave.
- Help Designing: Are you a designer? You can make some logos or wallpapers or other stuff for the project.
- Support Users: If you an experienced user in the software, you can join IRC channels and mailing lists to support other users of that software. You can create tutorials or online videos about it.
- Spread the word: Tell other users about the software you use if it was good. Recommend it for them.
At the end, we would like to thank every single free and open source software in the world for investing his time in creating free and open products for people. It’s rarely that you see such things in other industries. It’s truly a noble thing to do.
Disclaimer: This is an updated version of an article that was published 4.5 years ago.