There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
-Milton Friedman, Nobel-prize winning free market economist
Haroon, a colleague from Panacea asked about FOSS, “Who is marketing it, if it is really so good?”. It is an interesting question with the implication that it may not really be so good, otherwise, why aren’t so many of us already using it!
I strongly feel that FOSS is the next in technology. There was a time when innovation was driven by funding and money. You launch a company, make lots of money and hire the best talent and produce a wonderful software. But, the very nature of the internet and the inherent ‘symmetry of information‘ between the designer, user and the owner of software prevents unreasonable run-away profits! It is not like in health care where the patient and the community have no clue about the surgical process or technique. In the case of software, the community is as well informed, or sometimes better informed than the designer or owner of the software. The only way to make your software best, is to co-opt the community in the development. Of course, it is your choice as to what level of co-opting you would do. The farther you go on that spectrum of involving the community in development, greater are your advantages.
Of course, then Haroon’s logic of why everybody around is not using FOSS still applies. Well, here is the issue. In many countries in the South, the rampant availability of pirated free software like Windows is the problem. It speaks so much of the proprietorship over software, when intuitively, people use software without paying and many are surprised that these actually cost a huge amount! Many of my colleagues are simply ‘used’ to proprietary software, and if faced with paying in retail value for these software, would quickly look for free alternatives. In a world where many would not use IE even if given money, we can see that the transition is beginning.
And it is not as if the big guys do not see this. No company today remains exclusively in software. There is no money in it. Who knows, the next door neighbour may have a better go at an OS than a multi-million dollar corporation! That is how this ‘market’ of software works, not like health care where the asymmetry of information between the provider and the user is phenomenal.
So, there you go, there may not be a free lunch, but FOSS is definitely the recipe to prepare one for yourself! And if you get your recipe in GPL, better inform the recipe owner about that extra salt that you added after the tomatoes!