Free? Yes, but at a price.

March 13th, 2013 by

software

By Andy The

Free software and Open Source Software (OSS) are ubiquitous.  From Google giving away Android to collect our mobile search data, to board vendors giving away software to entice sales, it’s clear that free and open are here to stay.

There are great examples of the economic success that the free and open can drive.  Free Android allowed Samsung to slingshot into the market-share lead among cell phone providers. No way Samsung gets to the top so quickly if they’d had to buy or develop their own OS.

But, mostly “free” comes at a price.

Free software can remove the incentive to innovate and the long-run effects are akin to a mammoth hangover.

For example, a hardware company giving away a specific software package, entices customers and potential customers to buy the hardware product in order to get the free software.

However the hardware company “giving away” the free software views its largesse as an expense, not as a revenue driver.  Innovation and quality of the software inevitably suffer over time.  And, in this case the free software makes it difficult for new competitors to enter the market and innovate.  Users wind up with a custom hardware solution that has mediocre software. Worse still for users, the alternative providers are sparse.

Thoughtful deliberation about giving away software and using so-called “free” software are advised.

Dr. Mark Tarver posted a nice article listing some of the pros and cons of Free Open Source Software.

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