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Preamble Since this question is behind each second question concerning 'free software', please don't vote to close it. I don't want to discuss it with philosophers or economists or ask it on Yahoo. I want to discuss it with you, fellow programmers, puzzling your head about Open Source or Free Software and its implications.

Scenario Let's assume I like to build houses out of trash. The only cost is my time to build them. They look beautiful. And they feel great to live in. I just build them.

  • I don't do support.
  • I don't guarantee for anything.
  • I don't wait for a ngo to pay me for what I do.
  • I don't build the living-room and let me pay for building toilet and kitchen as well.
  • Perhaps tomorrow I will stop building houses and start building boats or planes.

Concerning "buying food" I don't care in which way free software cares to be free. I want to be free. Not free like beer, not free like free speech, but free like somebody who does what he likes most and makes a living with it.

Can free software give me this freedom? Or is it only proprietary software, a huge legacy or a Basic Income giving that freedom to me?

closed as primarily opinion-based by curiousdannii, Michael Schumacher, ArtOfCode Oct 26 '16 at 22:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • "Not free like beer, not free like free speech, but free like somebody who does what he likes most and makes a living with it." -- Are you asking, then, if it's possible to make a living developing open-source software? – Xiong Chiamiov Oct 17 '16 at 18:26
  • I guess in that case I simply would have asked "Is it possible to make a living developing open-source software". :) Think of apps in the app store. There was a time where you could program "flappy bird" and make a fortune with it. No long-term responsibility, Just a neat challenging game. Like somebody building a house and then moving on to the next thing. – staeppvargen Oct 17 '16 at 23:17
  • By the way, sorry folks! In stack overflow the answers are much more in focus than the question and so I got used to note some things not in my notebook but as a question&answer-pair. I tried that here and I see that my question makes me look very silly ("how is it that you don't know that one can not only have fun in life?"). What I wanted to focus on are insights like "you aren't paid for your efforts but for the fact, that somebody wants the outcome of your efforts. And this outcome or purpose might be bigger and better licensing your software as free software". – staeppvargen Oct 18 '16 at 23:26
  • I've got to say, I'm kind of dumbfounded with the -3 on this question... – Zizouz212 Oct 19 '16 at 2:18
  • How about crowd funding. – ctrl-alt-delor Oct 24 '16 at 17:28
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Free software is a movement concerned with software that respects the user's freedom. A particular piece of software is either licensed in a way that respects the FSF's four freedoms, or it is not. Whether or not the author of that software makes a living doing what he pleases is a separate concern.

This question seems to ask, "How do I make a living writing software that complies with the four freedoms, but not by charging for support, selling warranties, finding a co-aligned charity/business to pay me for what I already do, or having software with some subset of non-free features?"

At the most basic level, people will pay you if you do something that supplies value to them. The catch, of course, is that what another person finds valuable may not align perfectly with exactly what you want to do.

I'll paraphrase a bit from an answer given by Richard Stallman which I heard in person and can't give a direct quote for:

Developer effort is an abundant resource, but the ability to direct developer effort is a limited resource. Developers are writing free software all the time, right now. But if you're a business, it might be that all of the software that exists in the world right now doesn't solve exactly the problem you need solved. You could, of course, wait (or ask nicely) for that tireless legion of free software developers to produce exactly the software you need, but odds are, they won't. They'll keep working on whatever they'd like to work on.

Now, if you offer money to those developers to redirect their energy into writing the software features that your business needs, then you might get somewhere.

(Apologies if I've misrepresented Mr. Stallman's viewpoint in any way above.)

Of course, if a company offered you a chance to redirect your efforts from working on your own your perfect dream of ideal programing projects to prioritizing the specific features that they need, maybe you'd consider this a failure to meet the requirement of doing exactly what you want. To such a response, I can only say: this is a fundamental economic difficulty that must occur anytime people with money have different goals from people who want money.

You might also say -- even if the tasks the business needs closely align with your own wishes -- that this is a violation of your prohibition against (analogously) "waiting for an NGO." But again, I submit that since economic transactions must involve two willing parties, you must necessarily wait until you can find a buyer for your services. This is no different from getting a job (you must wait until someone accepts your application) or selling a good (you must wait until a buyer will give you money).

  • Tnx for your thoughts! I guess we might even get "agile approach" integrated like: It's stupid to build a complete house without caring for the needs of the future buyers and it's even more stupid to build a complete (free or not free) software without knowing that you will meet somebodie's use cases. However, licensing the software as free software might even leverage speed and quality of construction and help others to handle that use case, too (which hopefully is not a problem but an additional advantage). – staeppvargen Oct 18 '16 at 0:01
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I guess my question is based on a misunderstanding I got aware of writing it:

Even if I think that I earn money by putting effort in building houses - it is not, is it? I would like it to be like that because that would seem fair to me, but in reality it's not.

What is paying me is not the effort I spent, but the limited amount of people that can live at the house at a specific time. The limited resource is paying me.

And since there are no limits for software (unless we build up some artificial ones) there is not such a kind of mechanism. No limit, no pay!

That makes free software a corner stone of changing paradigms:

Nowadays the pardigm is often "How do I earn the maximum amount of money with it?". The paradigm of free software is: "How do I program this software to optimally fulfill its purpose, in a collaborative way?" So it perhaps helps to make society care less for profit and care more for purpose (like Wikipedia).

So the answer could be: If you build software to solve a problem, free software will help you to solve this problem better (and perhaps even earn money with it).

If you aren't interested in a specific purpose, why not simply get employed by somebody who has a specific purpose (and lets you develop the software under a free license)?

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Let's assume I like to build houses out of trash. The only cost is my time to build them. They look beautiful. And they feel great to live in. I just build them.

  • I don't do support.
  • I don't guarantee for anything.
  • I don't wait for a ngo to pay me for what I do.
  • I don't build the living-room and let me pay for building toilet and kitchen as well.
  • Perhaps tomorrow I will stop building houses and start building boats or planes.

That's great, but who's going to pay for your bills?

If we translate this into software:

Let's assume I like to build software. The only cost is my time to build it. It works well.

  • I don't do support.
  • I don't guarantee for anything.
  • I don't wait for a customer to pay me for what I do.
  • I don't build one part and charge for add-ons.
  • Perhaps tomorrow I will stop programming and start building boats or planes.

The same question arises: who will pay your bills?

Most of us require some sort of income to survive. The standard way to gain income is to provide products or services to people, for which they provide money in return.

Whether or not this software you're creating is free software is almost entirely unrelated to this problem. The only way it matters at all is if the set of people who will pay you money for proprietary, unsupported, unguaranteed, unmaintained software that does X is different than the set of people who will pay you money for open-source, unsupported, unguaranteed, unmaintained software that does X.

There are very few people in the world who are able to just do whatever they want and not worry about their income. Even those of us who enjoy our jobs still generally have to do certain things that we don't necessarily want to do, still have to show up to work reliably, etc. and that's the reason we get paid.

  • building the house => bill is payed by the buyer that I find or find not; building "flappy bird" => I get paid by the advertising. I should have taken a painter as example. He paints a painting and then he sells it. He doesn't ask the customer if he'd buy it if Mona Lisa was a little bit more chubby. What I didn't consider is, that today even proprietary software is sold mostly as long term endevour. @apsillers pointed that out very well. Mostly programming isn't like creating a piece of art or a book, but more like "help sbd. to solve a problem" (=> see my answer, "purpose") – staeppvargen Oct 18 '16 at 22:55

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