This article has been bounding and jumping around in the nether regions of my mind for quite a while now. It decided today that it needs to be set free.
Everyone of us has heard or read some form of the old phrase, “You get what you pay for!”. The gist of this phrase is basically if something is “free” or low cost it is probably worth nothing or very little. However, is this true when applied to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and Linux? Looking at my usage of both I would have to say a resounding, “No!”.
As an advocate for using FOSS in general and Linux in particular I have pondered this apparent conundrum for a long time. With FOSS and Linux I get “free” software and it is worth quite a lot to me in terms of usability and function. Frankly, both would be worth quite a lot to anyone who used them. The fact that the software is free of a monetary cost in most cases does not make it worthless.
You see, one also “pays” for something with time, effort and energy. Each of us has a limited life-span. The time we choose to “spend” on anything is gone forever. No matter how much we may desire it we cannot get that time back. Therefore our most precious commodity is our personal time. I have taken the time, effort and energy to familiarize myself with FOSS and Linux, so I have “paid” for it in those ways. The more time, effort and energy I apply the more I get out of FOSS and Linux. At this point I am very comfortable with Linux on my desktop and FOSS for my work and play.
I also spent time, effort and energy learning about Microsoft products, IBM OS/2 (now eComStation) and SCO Unix systems. In all of those cases I had to spend money as well. Basically I had to “double invest” in those products. Why do I say “double invest”? Well, I also had to spend time, effort and energy to earn the money that I spent on these products that I then had to spend more time, effort and energy to learn. With FOSS and Linux I only have to invest once, not twice.
Now we come to a corporate reason to switch to FOSS and Linux. One which many Pro-Microsoft FUD spreaders dismiss out of hand. A corporation with several dozens to thousands of Microsoft desktop systems has to also spend money as well as time (more money), effort (more money) and energy (more money) to get up to speed on new, likely expensive, closed source software and the hardware for same in the case of Microsoft Windows 7. With FOSS and Linux these same corporations have the option to bring all their support in-house and only spend time, effort and energy to get fired up on FOSS and Linux. The mythical idea that IT managers want a “throat to choke” when things go wrong is a red herring here. If one wants a choke-able throat at hand what better one than in-house support? Some people on staff that have a clue about installing, using and fixing FOSS and Linux is the better choice than some people working for some other company at the other end of a phone number.
Some may ask, “What about those stock holders in a company? Won’t their dividends suffer in a switch that is possibly as disruptive as a switch to FOSS and Linux on the corporate desktop?” Sure, in the short term, a corporation may spend less to stay with proprietary, costly, closed source software and keep dividends up for stock holders. But anyone with the ability to think ahead and plan for long term results can see that down the road switching to in-house support using FOSS and Linux will mean significant savings for a corporation in the long term. It could also mean more dividends for stock holders, those people that Microsoft FUD mongers try to point to as blockades for moving off of Microsoft. Any company that I hold stock in should be thinking in the long term and should be switching to FOSS and Linux.
So, what will it be for you? Will you keep paying twice for your software in both money (earned with your time) and personal time (more precious than money) for learning? Or will you choose to switch to FOSS and Linux on your desktop and only “pay” for the software once? I will just keep paying once, thank you.
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Edit Sun Jun 20 14:17:10 CDT 2010: Fix URLs and edit comments for same in the last paragraph.