Going Broke with Free Software

Opinion: Open-source developers are facing hard times both because the money that flows through open-source often isn't reaching their wallets and because not enough people are paying even the nominal amounts requested by open-source vendors.

"Free software is not a good way to make money."

No, Im not quoting an analyst with an ax to grind against free software. Nor am I citing a reporter who doesnt understand the first thing about open-source business models. Im reporting what a major open-source developer told me recently.

Because of the very personal nature of his problems, Im not going to identify him, but suffice it to say that his software is one of the major open-source "success" stories.

He goes on, "I have spent 20 years first studying how to, and then making a [major open-source project], and then rewriting it from scratch. I give [it] away for free, and the money is not so important really. My [19xx vehicle] is still a really nice car. But then I go for a divorce, and find that the courts treat me like [crap] because I dont have money."

"So, when I go to conferences, and people say odd things like "It is an honor to meet you," doing free software is great, but in the courts, if you dont have money, you are [crap]."

Now, right about now you may be thinking that life just handed this guy a really bad hand and it could have happened to anyone whether they worked on free software or for Microsoft.

Funny you should think of Microsoft, because another major open-source developer, Daniel Robbins, Gentoo Linuxs founder and its former chief architect, recently got a job there.

/zimages/7/28571.gifRead more here about Robbins accepting a position at Microsoft.

Gentoo Linux may not be a Red Hat or a Novell/SuSE, but it is an important Linux distribution.

Our own eWEEK Labs said in February that while we "would hesitate to recommend Gentoo for broad production use … based on our research and testing of Gentoo, its a distribution thats certainly worth keeping an eye on."

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about the progress of Gentoo Linux.

So why did Robbins join "The Evil Empire"? Well, it seems he needed a good job. Who doesnt?

Or, consider Lycoris, which was acquired a few weeks ago by Mandriva.

Lycoris is a well-thought-of desktop Linux distribution.

The company had also recently tried to bring Linux to the tablet PC market.

/zimages/7/28571.gifTo read more about Lycoris, click here.

You might think that Lycoris had been doing well. Think again.

Next Page: An uphill battle.