It’s time for open source users to open their wallets

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It was around 1999, and I attended my first Linux convention at Research Triangle, where Red Hat was based. I was, needless to say, excited. Not only was I going to be with other Linux users, but I was doing it under the guise of covering a convention for a company that had hired me to cover Linux and open source.

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When I first walked into the convention, I saw the “trench coat army” in full force, many of them sitting in the aisles, hacking into sticker-covered laptops. Most of them sat alone, but a few tested the waters of socializing. Some knew each other, while others (like me) wondered around the convention hall in utter surprise at what was there.

Sellers. Business. Development teams. I met and had a long conversation with Miguel de Icaza, the man who started the GNOME desktop environment.

I also interviewed Scott Draeker, the CEO behind Loki Entertainment. If you’ve never heard of Loki Entertainment, his goal was to bring Windows gaming to Linux. I played every single game it released and enjoyed it immensely. The job the company did porting the games was stellar and it looked like gaming on Linux was going to be not just a thing but a hit.

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A curious thing that… success. Not only is he fickle, he has a way of undermining even the best-laid plans.

Unfortunately, one of the things Draeker hinted at was his only fear for his company. It wasn’t the ports. Oh no. The work that their development teams were doing was perfect. His caution was far more dire than that… and it’s one that not only came true in the short term, but became quite prescient in the long term.

Draeker’s biggest fear was that the Linux community would refuse to pay for the software.

He was right and that fear ultimately helped Loki Entertainment pull out. Along with the loss of the company came the hit that Linux games would take. It wouldn’t be until Steam became a thing that gaming on Linux would start to flourish.

However, even gaming on Linux with Steam has barely taken off. According to Gaming On Linux, only 1.27% of users use Steam on Linux.

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How is it possible? One of the biggest calls to action for the Linux community over the years has been the game.

“If we could only play on Linux, it would be world domination!” I can hear the spectrum of the community calling from the past.

Well we have games on linux and it works great. And yet, only a fraction of Linux users bother to use Linux to play Steam.

Why is that?

I have a theory and it’s one that the Linux community might not want to hear.

Linux users don’t want to pay for software.

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It makes sense. After all, the spirit of the Linux community has always been about freedom. I would say that freedom should focus on the freedom of the source code, not the cost of the software.

Keeping the lights on

Why do I think this particular topic is worth repeating over and over again? Because there are a lot of companies trying to do good things with open source software. They are creating fantastic new products and are doing the right thing by publishing their code behind the community friendly GPL (or similar) license. Those same companies often release community versions of their software with limited functionality. They then sell business, professional or business licenses to keep the lights on for the company.

The sad thing is that people don’t buy those licenses. Because? It’s certainly not because the product they create is subpar. In fact, in many cases, those products are far superior to anything else on the market.

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And yet those companies are struggling because open source users refuse to open their wallets. Of course, it doesn’t just apply to open source users. This problem can be traced back to entrepreneurial businesses. Why pay for a software license when you can download the font and use it for free?

Because companies are trying to create important products that make a difference and the only way those companies can stay afloat is if consumers and B2B partners understand the value of keeping those companies in business.

But it’s not just companies trying to sell software. They are also independent developers trying to sell their products in app stores like GNOME Software, KDE’s Discover, and Elementary OS’s AppCenter. The problem with that is that many Linux users don’t want to see software in their app stores with a price associated with it.

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But why? What’s the problem with a developer who builds something cool for the Linux desktop and makes money off of it? Shouldn’t people be paid for their hard work? And wouldn’t more software purchases lead to more and better software available?

If there really was a market for paid Linux software, wouldn’t it make sense that more and more companies could see the value in launching their products on the Linux platform?

I realize that it is all very complicated, but this particular topic is not. It is time for open source users to open their wallets and be willing to buy software. The Linux operating system has been and always will be free to use. So why not be willing to pay for those pieces of software you depend on?

Pay for that password manager, the pro version of your favorite browser, buy some Steam games on Linux. Do what you can to help support a cause you love. You’re not just thanking a developer for their hard work, but you’re showing companies that there is, in fact, a market for Linux software.

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Don’t look this gift horse in the mouth too long, otherwise the horse could gallop off and never return.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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