At the recent office 2.0 conference I had the good fortune to listen to a panel on which Doug Harr of Ingres spoke. I’ve swapped a couple of emails with Doug and came across a post on his blog where he discusses Open Source software and whether or not it is in fact free.

Ingres has developed the majority of their customer facing applications using pen Source tools and utilities – so by definition they’re a believer in the concept of Open Source – the community development and agility that goes with it. However Ingres does not consider itself a user of free software – it invests in paid deployment, support and maintenance services that go along with the OpenSource software they use.

Doug calls for a change in naming – rather than calling OpenSource software "free" we should call it "complimentary" – where the software itself comes without a charge – but the add on services can be purchased.

As Doug so rightly points out;

We want resources behind the solution who we can call at 2 am if that application is mission critical or even subject to at least 95.95% availability

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Hi Ben.

    Naming around OSS/Free Software has always been confusing, even within the community of developers and frequent users. The English language doesn’t help things. For most FOSS developers and user-community, Free Software has never meant ‘free’ as in zero cost, although that’s often a side benefit. It’s always meant ‘free’ as in liberated, and being free to do what you like with the software once you have it. This includes being able to see what it actually does (by having the source code), making changes to adapt it for your own needs (or paying someone else to make changes), and/or being able to give it to someone else on the same terms that you received it. I think the whole community-driven development thing is just a natural result of this attitude, as people/organisations with the skills and inclination to make improvements for themselves submit them back to be merged with an application for everyone to use.

    Without the liberated attitude towards distributing source code, allowing modifications and redistribution, it’d be impossible for some of the most useful open source compilations to exist. Organisations like RedHat and Debian would never be able to compile together tens of thousands of applications into a Operating System, then tune and adjust them so they worked together in a stable and cohesive way.

    To me, Doug’s post read as if he was referring to what OSS means from his perspective within his own business in the specific way that he uses it. (ie. It costs us money for support so it’s not really free, but that’s fine because it’s worth it… or something like that.) Perhaps it makes sense to use the word ‘complimentary’ in that context, but I’m not sure I’d agree with it as a general rule. That makes it sound as if it’s all about money.

  • Mike, I like your addition of the work ‘liberated’ to the synonym list. My reference to ‘complimentary’ was meant to tie back to George Carlin’s bit and to be a bit ‘tongue-in-cheek’ about it. I agree in fact that much more important than the idea of being ‘free’ or ‘complimentary’ is the idea that the model of open source in itself, being ‘liberated’, brings tremendous value to the market just due to the methodology itself. My add to that is more that the model does not need to imply a lack of ability to ‘commercialize’ the offering, and that in fact as a customer, as a CIO, I do pay for support wherever it is available. Anyway good discussion here and looking forward to more:

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