Tuesday, November 21, 2006

“Real Price” of Free Software


Kerala became the first state in India that decided to impart computer education to school students using free software. I don’t think there is any other democratically elected Government anywhere in the world that has made such a decision. This decision of Kerala Government made me think about the whole concept of free software.

According to FSF website

Free software is a matter of users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs freedom 1).
The freedom to redistribute copies as you can help your neighbor (freedom 2)
The freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3)

Being free to do these things means that you do not have to ask or pay for permission.



I am trying hard to understand this concept. Whenever I need to understand something I relate it to something simple and similar so that I can understand the harder situation, better.

Let us assume here that, like free software, we have something called “free movies”. Take for example a movie – Jurassic Park by Steven Spielberg. Let us apply all these “freedoms” to this movie.

Freedom 0 – Freedom to run the movie for any purpose.

We are going to have a small party in our house on the day of the release of this movie. Just call the producer of that movie and ask for a print, he will send you the copy for free. There is no need to ever go to the movie theatre again paying for the ticket, right?

Freedom 1 – Freedom to study how the movie works and adapt it to your needs.

Isn’t it like cutting a portion of the film and pasting it somewhere else? Why does Spielberg have to spend so much effort to make this movie if some one sitting somewhere is going to change the product?

Freedom 2 – Freedom to redistribute copies of movies so you can help your neighbors.

Doesn’t it rhyme like “Thou Shallt love Thy Neighbor as Thyself”? So this means watch the movie for free, make a copy of it and distribute it to all your neighbors for free. During the age of free movies, could philanthropist only produce movies?

Freedom 3 – Freedom to improve the movie and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Spielberg may have spent months to plan and make this movie. Now thanks to free movie movement, someone has access to his film and can modify and release it. Wont the qualities of the product suffer?

Having gone through all these things I have a doubt. Aren’t we talking about the old socialist concepts, which have proved to be a total failure in Europe, Russia and other old communist countries?

Bringing in a new concept requires time and money. That is true in software field also. If someone comes up with a great concept and implements it in free software he doesn’t get any reward for his hard work and time. Someone somewhere will use it to reap the benefit of that hard work. Isn’t it ethical that the person who did the hard work in developing this software gets something out of it?

I have heard that during communist rule in East Germany, USSR and other European countries, every one use to earn the same kind of income, they have to live in same kind of houses what ever be the work they did. Wasn’t this one of the reason for the failure of communist regimes in the world. Whatever is your talent it never gets recognized and then talented people in these countries lose motivation. When the brightest brains in one country lose motivation that country has no future. If that is the case in the long run,

“THERE WILL BE A PRICE FOR THIS 'FREE SOFTWARE' IN THE LONG RUN”
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22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog is full of faulty comparisons .How can u compare software with a movie which is a finished product ?Software is like raw material and movie is an end product.Also the basic revenue model of the Whole ebusiness is entirely different from other industries. If you look at google ,they never charge the users anything and most of the service is FREE .....Whereas they make profit from the Ads where they use the customer base to their advantage. In movies it never happens that way.

Ajith

November 21, 2006 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh,
Last 2 posts of yours were quite relevant but this time I am forced to withhold my opinion about this post..

Firstly because you cannot replace some word with another randomly chosen word/phrase ad then compare the two sentences.. Also before you do that the first question you ask yourself is "Am I making any sense??".. I have to tell you, the answer in this example would have been a BBBIIGGG NNNOOOOO!!!

Secondly, It is quite obvious that they are talking about Linux. It is free, quite similar to Windows and runs most applications that run on Windows!! It has an interface sort of similar to that of Windows and once someone gets used to it they end up loving this OS. Atleast my understanding is that it is more secure than Windows.. We know how expensive Windows XP can be, right??

That said, there are definitely some problems as well. 1) Finding people who can support and provide initial training to school teachers is definitely a bigger challenge.. (2) Any updates for a linux based system usually doesn't come for free.. For example, Redhat charges outrages rates for licenced versions of linux where they provide support and software updates/upgrades. (3) Starting to upgrade the OS and contributing to the linux community is not very trivial any day..

Weighing the pros and cons, it is obvious that the push for Linux is entirely based on ideologies rather than public good in mind!!

~ Gibs

November 21, 2006 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Vulturo said...

Brijesh,

Are you aware of the fact that contributing to open-source software movements is purely voluntary? There's no question of people "losing" motivation.

People contribute time and effort without expecting any returns (either monetary or recognition), because they are "already motivated" and because they care.

November 21, 2006 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Krish said...

This is plain nonsense. Just shows your lack of understanding.

November 21, 2006 2:36 PM  
Blogger Ambuj Saxena said...

If you really want a comparison, compare Free Software with anonymous charities. The latter has existed for as long as humanity, and still survives! Do you know why? Because people don't do it to make money. They do it for satisfaction.

November 21, 2006 4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of analogies, let's put it this way. If whoever made the first dinosaur movie (it wasn't speilberg) had copy-righted/trade-marked 'Dinosaur', there definitely wouldn't have been a 'Jurassic Park'.

If let's say Speilberg had trade-marked the word 'Jurassic' and demanded royalty everytime someone had mentioned it, heck, you and me would have to pay him a fortune for just being able to mention the Jurassic in your blog. Ridiculous as these arguments sound, this is exactly what's happening in the Software industry.

Free Software movement is a fight against such meaningless Copy-rights/Trademarks/Patents etc. which throttle further innovation and invention in the name of protecting IP.

Vivek

November 21, 2006 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pavam brijesh-ne ellarum koodi konnu kola vilichu :)

Needless to say, I disagree with your pt of view. Free software is here, and is here to stay.

Even big financial corporations in USA are awakening to the fact that ppl write better software when they are relaxed and when they want to - which is what open source is all about. In fact, our clients have a documented open source review process in place... and though open source is always suspected of bugs, once it clears the tests prescribed, it is considered as good as any other purchased code.

Anjana
*runs away before any stones are hurled in this direction*

November 21, 2006 5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh,
Needless to say you have totally missed the point.YOur comparisions was between apples and oranges.and your aiminig at the policies of VS govt(or communism in general) exposes your underlying hatred of communism without acknowledging the very many good things it has done in a country like India which was continually under fuedal supression for centuries.They have their bad policies but they have a lot of good and done a lot of good for Kerala esp.

I think this is one of the best things kerala govt has done in the field of education in recent times.
You can compare Free software to free giveaway furniture..if lucky you will get a good chair which you have to spend some time(if you are mechanically inclined) to assemble and paint but you can sit on it and do your stuff and not pay a penny to any body. You should appreciate the time these free software developers spent in doing this. If not for linux, google would have been paid service.Nobody wud build a search engine on M$'s bloatware and pay Gates Millions(and you can't do it techinally also)

~Prasanth

November 21, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...

send this to the MPAA..they would love you.

November 21, 2006 8:46 PM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

Ajith,
I feel you didn’t understand the meaning of free software I am talking about. Google doesn’t come under free software. Go to the following link in free software foundation website and read the first few paragraphs (http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html). If the software satisfies all the 4 freedoms mentioned in that then only it is free software. Yes of course google is free to use. But do google share code and the search algorithm? Google will become free software only when it gives out the algorithm and code it used to develop it. Then others can build upon it. Now if others mimic google then revenue of google will go down. So the free software is not the software which we get for free. I think you missed that point.

Gibs,
I understand that it is not fully logical to replace one word with other. But I am trying to understand some new concepts. I am reading a lot about this these days but more I read more I am getting confused. Like the comment by Ajith, I believed free software is the one which you get for free (eg google). As I read more I understood free software is more than that. I am still trying to understand the whole concept.

“it is obvious that the push for Linux is entirely based on ideologies rather than public good in mind!!”

This is exactly what I feel about the whole thing. It is one big ideology over another.

Vulturo
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am trying to understand this concept. You develop free software without expecting anything in return and voluntarily. That means it should be a person’s hobby. He may have to do some other work to earn his living. So now my question coming to my mind is – say some one develops free software. Another person used the source code and developed something else. Now other people started using it. After few weeks they found out a bug. How easy is to contact that person? Since the person who developed the new version doesn’t make a living using this work what guarantee we have to assume that we get the corrected software? Just some random thoughts that come to my mind.

Krish
I accept I am a naïve in this area and I am trying to understand what this concept is all about.

November 21, 2006 11:34 PM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

Ambuj saxena
If anonymous charities were a great success then there should not be any poverty in the whole world. Developing software not expecting money and for satisfaction- I doubt the efficiency of it in the long run.

Vivek-
I understood your comments. But is that all the free software movement is all about. Then why do Free Software Foundation in their website ask us not to buy HD-DVD or Blu-ray disks. I feel the free software concept has more broadness than you wrote. I have a feeling after reading through all these articles adopting to free software will definitely trespass the intellectual rights of the creator.

Anjana,
I know when I wrote this one that reaction would be like this. I am trying to understand the whole concept and what will be the effect of it in the long run.

Prashant,
You made a chair and I am going to use it for my own good. Isn’t appropriate for me to compensate for your efforts. You may have put in lot of efforts to make a chair and now I just take that and use it. Do you have motivation to make more chairs? That is the question coming to my mind.

Again about google- I am not sure if it can be considered as free software.

Patrix,
Welcome to my blog.

November 21, 2006 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh,
It wud be good to read the history of free software. BSD @UCB(latee 70s) was a NSF or DARPA funded project which suppported many grad students(you know how impoprrtant this is ;))and finally released a clone of Unix FREE. Hotmail the first free email is built on FreeBSD(M$ after buying it has not een able to migrate it to Windozzze) .the internet as we pretty much know it is built on free software.No other commercial alternative was present or viable to power the internet. I can go on..google's revenue model is viable becuase the service they built (though the algo is proprietarty) is based on a scalable ,open source platform.If they bought the software fromm M$ they would have to start charging users because sofware as you probably knowis costlier than H/w.

Come out of the "benefit" motive and think out of it..as someone else said what benefit has Mother Teresa leaving her comfortable home and finally dying serving the slums of Calcutta.?nothinng other than pure joy of getting a job done and helping others.(this way way before she was given Bharat Ratna or made a saint). Hackers get the kick out of a weekend hack while we are busy playing cricket or watching TV.They help someone in that process too!

Prasanth

November 22, 2006 2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inspite of all the discusssion going on I am surprised @ why you don't get the idea of people volunteering to dedicate their effort and time do things out of intellectual curiosity, challenge or whatever. You can pay someone who is ready to accept your monetary contribution but how much would you pay??

If you ever used the spyware softwares Spybot S&D or the ad-aware from lavasoft they have a link requesting you to contribute something.. Have you ever donated anything to those guys (I haven't), eventhough we download it for FREE and use it quite often on most of the PCs? But I believe that those guys are doing a great job eventhough you and I don't make any donations or never care to figure out how they do it for FREE..

If your original intention was to understand the concept of "Free Software whatever", you could have stated it clearly in your post and requested readers to express their views, rather than make a complete *&* out of yourself.. People knowledgeable in this subject would have replied to you more to the point rather than spend their time kicking your *&*..

That way you could have got a glimpse of how the Open-source/"Free s/w whatever" groups operate. Its quite similar to the online technical forums where you post a question and people knowledgeable in that topic replies to your Qns without worrying too much about the effort/time they put into answering your Qn (evenif it is a total dumb-*&* Qn!!!). I think you should try to develpe a mature outlook and realize that not everything people do is for money and you cannot always compensate or put a price tag on someones's enthusiasm and interest. And as long as self-motivated people come-forward to make any contributions towards such a cause these free softwares can only get better!!

And as an aside, I think, this materialistic/money-oriented attitude is probably why some charity organizations lose their direction and die after the term of a group of self-motivated office-bearers..

-- AX

November 22, 2006 5:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is good that you thought of it, many people doesn't do that. See the statement "Being free to do these things means that you do not have to ask or pay for permission". Many companies and individuals makes money out of free software. According to me it is another way of doing business.

One more thing. The common thing in you blog is about changing the systems in India/Kerala. We all knows challenges exists in every place of life in India. We needs the solution not the information about a problem. Our thought should go to "How to solve the problems and How can I contribute to the society for it". Let this be your next blog.

-Bipin

November 22, 2006 5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh,
Thanks for your response to my comments.. You highlighted the last paragraph from my comment but I realized after posting the comment that I did not specify the scope of my comment.

If the Govt of Kerala addresses the issues I mentioned in the comment, I am all for the free software stuff. However, until they come-up with a clearly thought out strategy, my comment holds!!

-- Gibs

November 22, 2006 5:29 AM  
Anonymous Procrastinx said...

Foolish. Im gonna forgive you only if you confess that you were drunk when you wrote this.

" After few weeks they found out a bug. How easy is to contact that person? Since the person who developed the new version doesn’t make a living using this work what guarantee we have to assume that we get the corrected software? "
The idea is that if you have found a bug , fix it and release it. Remember , FSF was initially about geeks. So it worked in that wasy when it was started. But these days , all linux distributions have buglists here you can report bugs. Also , there is no notion of the original creator of the software , there will be a group. It works very much like any other commerical software development. Someone begins it and other people participate to help and soon we have enough people to actually dish out a product.

My two cents.

November 22, 2006 11:46 AM  
Blogger silverine said...

Very thought provoking post!! It takes guts these days to write about things that people are willing to rabidly defend. After reading your post, I asked the same question to many people which lead to a lot of discussion and research and finally the reluctant acceptance that there will a price for freeware in the long run. You have proved yourself as a scholar.

November 23, 2006 3:53 AM  
Anonymous Rob Myers said...

OK, let's go through this:

Let us assume here that, like free software, we have something called “free movies”.

You mean like "Elephants Dream"?

We are going to have a small party in our house on the day of the release of this movie. Just call the producer of that movie and ask for a print, he will send you the copy for free.

Why would he do that? If it's the day of release he's the only person you can get a copy from. He can therefore charge you for your copy. Or he could charge you in advance if he's worried that you will rip him off.

There is no need to ever go to the movie theatre again paying for the ticket, right?

You don't like going to the theatre? Why not? What can the theatre do to improve your experience? Are you really saying that a DVD on a small television at home is the same as a big screen experience?

Isn’t it like cutting a portion of the film and pasting it somewhere else?

Yes. This is also known as "review" or "critique".

Why does Spielberg have to spend so much effort to make this movie if some one sitting somewhere is going to change the product?

Like he did with the books of Jaws, Peter Pan, Jurassic Park...

Doesn’t it rhyme like “Thou Shallt love Thy Neighbor as Thyself”?

No.

So this means watch the movie for free, make a copy of it and distribute it to all your neighbors for free.

No. The GPL explicitly states that you can charge for providing copies. There are companies based on doing this.

During the age of free movies, could philanthropist only produce movies?

No. Apart from Elephants Dream, which used pre-sales and has sold well since release, a project called "A Swarm Of Angels" is using a group funding model to make a film.

Spielberg may have spent months to plan and make this movie. Now thanks to free movie movement, someone has access to his film and can modify and release it. Wont the qualities of the product suffer?

Only if Spielberg is a particularly bad businessman, and he has not shown any sign of that.

If there is a flaw in the film and the film is Free, anyone can improve it. Spielberg gets a better film in return.

Having gone through all these things I have a doubt. Aren’t we talking about the old socialist concepts, which have proved to be a total failure in Europe, Russia and other old communist countries?

No. This is a common misunderstanding, but being common doesn't make it right. Such luminaries of capitalism as Apple, IBM and Novell both use and contribute to Free Software. And more capitalist web sites run on Free Software than on proprietary software.

Bringing in a new concept requires time and money. That is true in software field also.

And these concepts are usually created by academics or by government or military projects, paid for by society. Big corporations either buy in these ideas or more often just rip them off.

If someone comes up with a great concept and implements it in free software he doesn’t get any reward for his hard work and time.

Why not? Even if he is too stupid to be able to charge for his work or to sell the results he can make money off the reputation he gains from making great software.

Someone somewhere will use it to reap the benefit of that hard work.

How is that any different from normal business?

Isn’t it ethical that the person who did the hard work in developing this software gets something out of it?

It is. They get the freedom to use the software they right, and the freedom to use the many other pieces of software that they use to make their software.

Creation doesn't happen in a vacuum.

I have heard that during communist rule in East Germany, USSR and other European countries, every one use to earn the same kind of income, they have to live in same kind of houses what ever be the work they did. Wasn’t this one of the reason for the failure of communist regimes in the world. Whatever is your talent it never gets recognized and then talented people in these countries lose motivation. When the brightest brains in one country lose motivation that country has no future. If that is the case in the long run,

This sounds more like the cubicle-based bureacracy of capitalist corporations than the Freedom of Free Software.

Free Software projects are incubators for and great recognizers of talent. And you can get paid for writing Free Software, whether within the institutional settings in which most software is actually written (corporations, government, military), or in Free Software companies like Red Hat.

Your concerns are understandable, but Free Software (or Free Culture) is a matter of rights, not unpaid labour.

November 23, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

Prashant,
I can understand the concept you are talking. You have a free software and you build on it and use it and gets paid also for it. But if you read the free software website the impression ones gets is that you should never get any money . In their website they have mentioned, “Being free to do these things means that you do not have to ask or pay for permission.”

I could understand the way google works is the basis of free software then I am for it. But going through the free software foundation website I get a feeling that free software is much more than that.

AX

Rather than asking some one about the concept I thought it could be good if I present my thoughts and have a discussion on it.

Bipin,

As I read more and more into this topic I got a feeling that it is a fight between two ideologies. I am sure there is big money and stakes involved in this free software market also. As you told “another way of doing business”

I just pen down the thoughts, which came to my mind. My dream is to see a modern, highly developed India where there is no poverty, divisions based on caste or creed etc. This blog is part of my attempt learn from others. Thanks for your valuable suggestions.

Gibs
Let us wait and watch.

Procrastinx
I am a naïve in this subject. Please forgive me for my foolishness.

Silverine
Thanks a lot for supporting me. I am still understanding the whole stuff.

November 23, 2006 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my take on the issue is that the free software initiative is a response to the high prices charged by the owners of proprietary software, n the inability 2 customise the software to ones particular needs. n because of d presence of free software, d big software companies will think twice before fleecing their customers.
and the vast majority of ppl dont care whether the free software that they use is under GPL or if its a proprietary software that is released on a free to use licence.
personally i prefer software which is backed up by a responsive team, so that bugs are quickly dealt with. which is usually the case with free software.
And if ur view is that ppl who cant afford software should stay away from computers then thats like sayin ppl without money shouldnt eat!
dr.asish

December 02, 2006 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog :-)
Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day :)

January 29, 2007 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Deepak said...

Brijesh,

Free Software means
"FREE OF SERVICE NOT FREE OF COST"

Deepak

January 31, 2007 11:17 AM  

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