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You can get more than you pay for!

A long, long time ago, when the world was young, people loved getting free software for their computers. This usually meant that they were getting it from someone else who bought it, or more likely, from someone who already got it from someone else. People who did this were called “Software Pirates,” and the practice was generally referred to as “stealing software.”

Software companies felt the sting in their bottom lines, so methods arose to make it harder to copy software. Having to use specially encoded original disks to install the program; having to enter a complicated registration code; even “dongles,” those little devices plugged in between the keyboard and the computer or the program wouldn’t run – these were all methods used to counter software piracy.

Preventing software theft became a hard-to-win battle. New methods were too complicated, sometimes even actual buyers of the software had problems using it, or the protection codes were cracked or passed along. It became a war of back and forth battles that couldn’t be won by the software makers.

Some came up with a novel idea – give the software away, and ask users to pay a “shareware fee” if they found it useful. Many independent programmers (people not backed by large companies) were able to provide good software at lower prices, and earned enough to upgrade and improve their shareware.

Certain larger companies tried a revised approach; they gave away their software totally free – anyone could use it. The Netscape Web Browser (known also as “Mosaic”) was a well-known program given away for free, in part to help them fight the giant company behind the Internet Explorer web browser. “The Browser Wars” brought the idea of Free Software to the mainstream market. Giving a web browser away for free, while having it point back to the company’s own web site as the “default page” was a valuable payoff. Give away the software for free – it will drive users to the web site.

But these are still “software applications” distributed to use on your computers “as is.” You get them, install them, and run them. Free applications are the same as purchased – they’re yours to use exactly as they are written and they can’t be revised. This is what we’re most accustomed to in terms of the software we use and those license agreements we click to accept.

As a web developer I write computer code that creates the pages you see on a web site. The code I write sets the text size, color, style, even the position on the page, and the code arranges the graphics and photos on the page. I also write specialized code that lets web sites, as I’ve put it, “do things.”

The “packages” of code that serve specific purposes on a web site typically don’t have to be written from scratch. There are untold numbers of already written pages of code for all sorts of purposes: I can obtain a package of code to create an online store on a web site, or a package of code to create a sound player on a site, or a package to create a full featured discussion area, and on and on. There are thousands and thousands of packages of code available for programmers to use.

One unique type of software package is “Open Source Software.” Open Source means, essentially, that anyone can obtain, and use, and change the code in any manner, and for free.

Open Source Software is a very unusual concept. For example, I can obtain, totally free of charge, the code for an Online Store that’s been revised and updated for years so it includes every feature that users have wanted – it’s the entire, pre-built structure for a full-featured, totally complete, extremely efficient and well-tested online store and all I have to do is install it onto a web site. And remember, it’s free.

Now, don’t get the idea that I get something for “$0 dollars” and then mark it up for the client. Nope. Imagine you were having a house built, and all the materials – lumber, doors and windows, roofing tiles (slate), plumbing (copper, not plastic), even the blacktop for the driveway – were dropped off on the lot for free. You only had to pay your builder to construct the house with the free materials. Getting the materials for free saves a lot of money, same for an Open Source Application for a web site.

This is one of the best things that I can do for a web client. I can install free Blogs, Discussion Forums, Online Stores, Photo Galleries, Podcasting Apps, Document Transfer Features, and the most important part – my original install of an Open Source package – can usually be done in a minimal amount of time.

If I can build in major features that are bigger, and better, and ready to go, and I can build them in without having to pass along a “cost for materials” to my client, we’re all happy. I get to build a top-notch site using exemplary materials, and my client pays less for a quality web site. Everyone’s pleased. This is how I add value above and beyond what clients often expect when they engage for their web development needs.

One last thing… “How can Open Source Packages be given away for free?”

Here is the basic definition for Open Source Software
(very legal-friendly for an end user):

  1. Free Redistribution: The software can be freely given away or sold. This encourages sharing
  2. Source Code: The source code must either be included or freely obtainable. Without source code, making changes or modifications can be impossible.
  3. Derived Works: Redistribution of modifications must be allowed. This allows legal sharing and permits new features or repairs.
  4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code: Licenses may require that modifications be redistributed only as patches.
  5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups: No one can be locked out.
  6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: Commercial users cannot be excluded.
  7. Distribution of License: The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
  8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product: The program cannot be licensed only as part of a larger distribution.
  9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software: The license cannot insist that any other software it is distributed with must also be open source.
  10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral: No “click-through” licenses or other medium-specific ways of accepting the license can be required.

But you still might ask, “Why would a business give away their software?”
(The strategy is beneficial for businesses):

  1. Main Advantage for a Business: Open Source Software is a good way to achieve greater penetration of the market. Companies that offer open source software are able to establish an industry standard and gain competitive advantage.
  2. Developer Loyalty: It builds developer loyalty as developers feel empowered and have a sense of ownership of the end product.
  3. Lower Marketing Costs: Less marketing and logistical service fees are required for Open Source Software.
  4. New Technology: Open Source Software helps companies keep on top of new technology developments.
  5. Image Enhancement: Open Source Software is an extra tool to promote a company’s image in the marketplace.
  6. Product Quality: The OSS development approach helps produce high quality software quickly and inexpensively, and offers the potential for a more flexible technology and quicker innovation.
  7. Product Reliability: OSS development can be more reliable since it typically has thousands of independent programmers testing and fixing software bugs and programming errors.
  8. Product Flexibility: A modular development system allows programmers to build custom interfaces, or add new abilities and features. It is innovative because open source programs are the product of collaboration among a large number of different programmers.
  9. Quicker Innovation: The mix of divergent perspectives, corporate objectives, and personal goals speeds up innovation.
  10. Less Marketplace Pressure: Open Source Software can be developed in accord with purely technical requirements. Commercial pressures can degrade the quality of software, for example force traditional software developers pay more attention to customers requirements than to security requirements, since such features are somewhat invisible to the customer.

April 11, 2008 @ 8:00 PM