Free software.

Adam Bosworth and Krzysztof Kowalczyk are having an asynchronous discussion – ok dueling weblog posts – regarding how open source software should work and how it isn’t working. Krzysztof suggests that open source software doesn’t work as well in practice as in theory because companies prefer to take rather than give. To wit:

Google – we take it all, give nothing back. Come work for us.

I’m not sure about him, but Google has given me back untold hours of my life back in time savings, by providing me one of the most valuable search/research tools available, and a litany of other useful tools. They also provide the Google API for developer use.

In the early web days I worked with many ISPs both large and small. There wasn’t one that wasn’t using some cobbled together collection of free or almost free software. What did they give back? How about the many corporations that use some form of open source software? Is there now some absolute requirement to pay for open source software?

Open source software is akin to a labor of love. Occasionally it turns out to be a revenue generator or even create entire cottage industries, but it doesn’t start out that way. I’m thinking especially of things like Linux, MySQL, and Eclipse here.

As for the software being free, that has certainly occurred in the case of Linux where companies are willing to pay to have access to support. We ofter refer to the cost of the software being only a small component of the total cost of ownership.

I’m developing some open source software of my own to solve a problem I see. I hope that people use it and improve on it. If not that’s fine. It will still be useful to me and perhaps others. And that’s what it’s for.