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Thursday·02·March·2006

Supporting Free Software via vendors //at 02:25 //by abe

from the cash-flow dept.

Steve wrote in his blog:

I’ve seen this argument before “Buy distribution of GNU/Linux and support free software programmers”. The only problem I have with it is that it is incorrect. Buying GNU/Linux distributions helps the vendors who created it, certainly, and may indirectly help pay for some free software in the sense that the vendors might ship free software they wrote (e.g. SuSEs Yast{2]). However plonking down real cash-money for a boxed set of SuSE gives no money to the people who created MySQL, no money to the people who created Firefox, no money to the people who created Emacs, Vim, Bash, and Catan/Pioneers, etc.

I think, in general you’re right. And if you — as you did :-) — take SuSE, it usually works. And you’re probably also right for most people who just know the big, commercial distributions. But what if you take a free distribution like Debian or some of the BSDs, e.g. OpenBSD? How much truth is in there then?

Especially in the case of OpenBSD your view doesn’t seem work, because if you buy an (official) OpenBSD box, you pay the developers — or at least a few of them — of the operating system core and some mission-critical applications.

But what if you take community based distributions like Debian? You distinguished between distributor and authors of free software. In my eyes especially Debian, but also some other community based distributions are both at same time. So IMHO you can put them on the author side of your view.

And since many Debian vendors (at least those I saw) donate a part of the profit they make from selling Debian CDs or DVD to the Debian Project. Or they offer additional shopping cart items “Donation to Debian” if you order a Debian item. (Example: LinISO.de)

Another question in this context would be, how the FOSS world would look like if there are or were no commercial distributors. It probably would be much smaller because some marketing and some lobbying would be missing. Although that’s the only implication which comes to my mind, I’m sure, there are many more possible views on this subject.

But as I said, IMHO you’re right for most cases.

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Debian GNU/Linux is my favourite Linux distribution, being stable, flexible, consistent and having a great community. Although I'm not the biggest bug report writer, I try to contribute by staffing the Debian booth at events, carrying the necessary hardware there or even organising the whole booth.


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