Open Source is Free – Free like a puppy!

I’m at the ODTUG Kscope conference in Hollywood Florida and was just talking with some Oracle folks about Open Source (yes, Oracle has people devoted to working with Open Source tools) and I shared with them my general comments to students and colleagues about Open Source.

There are two kinds of free:

1. Here’s a free cup of coffee (or beer or soda…)

2. Here’s a free puppy

When accepting option 1 (free coffee) you take it, consume it, and enjoy.

When accepting option 2 (free puppy) you take it, you find a place for it to sleep, you take it to the vet, you walk the puppy, you feed the puppy, and oh-yeah — every once in a while the puppy might make a mess on your floor! You’ve made a commitment.
(I cannot take credit for the metaphor; I first heard it used by friend and colleague Jim Cody of Cardinal Directions – thanks Jim!)

Clearly, “free” is not always “completely free”

I love using Open Source software and working at client sites that use Open Source software; I’m just amused when I hear the old “it’s free” story. Software must be installed, maintained, and updated. Many companies exist today making good profits managing Open Source software for a fee; some even re-package open-source software so that a customer “has a neck to choke” when something goes wrong (again, for small fee).

Another sometime cost occurs when significant changes occur to Open Source software. Vendors who charge for software are expected to make new releases “compatible” with existing code or provide utilities to facilitate the process; if you’re not paying for the software, don’t expect that kind of hand-holding. Many Open Source projects will come up with a great new change, test it, then release it – even though the new release might require a complete rewrite of everything using the software. Your choice: stay with the down-level version (after all it still works), or, do what it takes to make your existing projects interact with the new version (might require some work).

Again, I love Open Source software and use it every day. I just want to shed a little light on the “it’s free” argument. Few things worth doing are truly free, in the case of Open Source software the initial download/install might be free but, like a puppy a commitment is being made.