Freedom vs. Free
Open source software is definitely not free when you look at the TCO. I have said it and will repeat it: I like to look at open source from a business perspective and believe much more in Marc Fleury's Professional open source that Richard Stallman's. Just like communism, if everything about open source is free, it will ultimately collapse. The reality is engineers need to feed their families. I have nothing against companies (like JBoss or Orbeon) charging for support and maintenance services (the scalable and predictable portion of the software business).
The good news is that the whole industry today understands open source much better; and when asked what's the most important advantage in using open source, people are not jumping to the old answer: it's free! Or, it's cheap! Many studies show statistics illustrating this shift, the latest I found was conducted by Computer Economics, here are their conclusions. The gist of it is that only 22% thought that it was cheaper to adopt open source while 44% chose "less dependence on vendors". In other words, people are interested in independence and freedom more than free or cheap. I also found a definition of Free Software on GNU and it had nothing to do with price, it talks about four kinds of freedom:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
- The freedom to redistribute copies
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits
What's important to you (or the organization you work for) when considering open source solutions?