Should Libré Software be Gratis?

I was inspired to write about this question because Kezz Bracey on Mastodon asked me a rather pointed question:

Do you feel that all libre software should be gratis?

Kezz Bracey – 2020-05-07

My short answer to this question is “yes”. I feel that libré software should be gratis, at least so far as practical. My main point of contention is that there does not seem to be a difference between selectively licensing your software to paid customers, and charging for access to libré software. Can you even truly claim your software is “open source” if no one but paid customers can access it? Are they allowed to distribute it freely? Make modifications and sell or redistribute their modifications to it in turn? These are all things that free software permits you to do.

The Long Answer to Libré/Gratis

Free software doesn’t always mean you just give it away. You can charge for running services on it, you can even charge for hosting the storage and services that it runs on. You can charge for support or maintenance. I’ve even seen models on platforms like iOS, where it’s a pain to build binaries for (developer fee, need a Mac, etc), so the source code to the program is free, but the compiled program is charged for to cover those fees.

There are also situations where you can have open source, but charge for things like art assets or server resources and additional features. You can charge for licensed components, like ActiveSync. Business models that include open source are different than the traditional model because you’re giving away the special sauce. This puts a business owner in a tricky situation, because you need to be more creative on how you raise revenue. Red Hat, however, proves that it can be done, and on scale.

I don’t begrudge people making money. It is an essential thing. Many free software developers simply work day jobs, contributing their time and energy during their off-hours. A lucky few work on it full time, paid to develop the tools that we use every day. It’s not easy to live that dream, certainly, but it does seem possible.

I’m hardly one to tell people how to operate. My opinions on the matter are just that, my own opinions. Much like there are lots of different licenses in the world, there are different approaches to this question. This is just mine.

Thank you.


I sometimes get to a point where I question a lot of what I do and what matters to me. Sometimes it’s because of simple things, like a broken tool, or a frustrating problem. Sometimes it’s more of a philosophy problem, where I question how I feel about something and if I should change my ideas or mannerisms behind some action.

Lately, it’s been a little of both. I use an iPhone, Apple Music, iCloud (storage, etc), Office 365, and probably other tools and services that would be considered “non-free” in the “libre” sense. This has lead to me thinking about what I actually want out of computing. It’s such a thorny question, because there are so many comfortable choices that I’m in, that upending them would probably throw my life (and my family’s) into temporary turmoil.

For instance: Office 365. I pay for just the Exchange Online component, because I don’t need the actual Office suite as we (my family) get it free from my school and other organizations that we’re associated with. Exchange Online has been fine from a end-user perspective. Very rarely do I have any real issues to speak of, other than paying for it. My real problem here is that it’s a very proprietary platform, and because of that, it’s moderately difficult to get out of and to connect to with free-software tools. The IMAP support is… functional, but the contacts and calendars are tied down.

Similarly, I have lots of Apple devices and services. Like Office 365, I don’t have any complaints, per se, it’s just that they’re extremely proprietary and that means getting out of the ecosystem is difficult, and like above, connecting using free-software tools is straight up impossible.

The reason I have these things in the first place is that my family, who don’t hold my free-software ideals, want/need access to reliable tools they can use from multiple places. This is not an unreasonable request, and is one that can be solved with enough time, free-software, capital and expertise. Unfortunately, I’m not willing or able to host all of that, or even administer it. I don’t have the time, and I certainly don’t have the specific expertise to do all of it. Hence the current implementation.

Balance between freedom, convenience and cost is a tricky one. While I’d personally like to model myself more in line with the FSF’s computing ideals. The problem is that I have family members that I have to support as well. I’d also like to move them toward more free-software systems. While I recognize their choice in platforms is their own, I also get to say what I will and will not support (kind of, family is so complicated).

I don’t have any kind of resolution for this, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of path I want to take. Is pragmatism the smarter choice? Idealism feels right, but is massively more difficult to implement. There is probably a good middle of the road, but I don’t know if I’m on it. Maybe it doesn’t matter?

What should I do?

Featured Image

“Ugh, a Mac”, by Joe Wilcox – License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Today starts a new day. After 15 years of having an old Google Account, through the closure of so many applications (some more useful than others), I’ve finally shed my Google Account. This was following several days of planning, reconnaissance and account cleanup to ensure that I wasn’t going to hamstring myself by doing it. I waited for several more days to see if Google’s Takeout tool would provide me with a final dump of everything, but alas, it took longer than I have patience for.

I have to say, it feels a little freeing, a little nerve wracking and a little anti-climactic. Deletion of the account was fast, almost too fast. I do feel good that I am no longer feeding my information Google directly, and I’m doing what I can to block side-channel attempts at collecting my information. I know it’s not entirely possible, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Going forward, I think I’m going to be much more cautious with my account creation. Services should be carefully considered before signing up, and only if self-hosting or securing is deemed too difficult or time-consuming to do so. Owning your data should be more important than the convenience aspect.

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