Elementary OS – Feeling like paying them?

I’ve advocated Linux and free software for years.  I still do.

Over the years I’ve also stated many times that proprietary software (and indeed software running on any other license) is fine with me, so long as the user is aware of the limitations and potential consequences of such licence.  That to me is choice, choice on the back of an informed decision and its also choice for the developers.

Elementary OS has a press release on their blog asking users to consider what they pay (or don’t pay) when they download their operating system.

we’ve decided to revise how we promote and handle payments. 

Now the first point is there is nothing wrong with charging money for work and time invested in a project.  Nothing at all.  Elementary OS is fully within its right to want to pay people for the time and work they have put in.  That’s fine.  Where I see the problem is when requests or payment start becoming more of a play on guilt, rather than a request for support.  Let me explain.

I firstly don’t use Elementary OS and certainly for the people over the years I’ve installed Linux for, there are far better (or at least just as good) distro’s in my opinion.  But that’s academic, people do use Elementary OS and I’m sure there are many happy users of it.

We want users to understand that they’re pretty much cheating the system when they choose not to pay for software. We didn’t exclude a $0 button to deceive you; we believe our software really is worth something.

And if I hadn’t read it on the Elemental OS page I wouldn’t have believed it.   Users who don’t/can’t pay are “pretty much” cheating the system?  Fine.  Don’t let them.  Don’t let a user get something for free if you don’t think they should and want paying.  Make it a purchase download.  Have the Elemental OS developers confidence in their product to do this?  It seems not, because if they truly think people are cheating the system by getting something for free then they should remove the ability to get it for free.  Whilst they give a reason for this, we can look at it later in the article.

If you are about to buy a new car and the salesperson says “well you can pay ##### for it or you can get it for free” which one will people choose in the main?  Its a perfectly normal reaction for people to seek out the cheaper option to save money and that goes no matter what pay scale you are on.   There are of course people who will pay regardless and to them any developer should be grateful.

This maybe highlights a big issue of open source software.  Whilst its turning out some of the best packages, there comes a time when someone, somewhere wants paying.  It’s the way of the world and until such time we live in a Star Trek future, things are not going to change.

I would love a world where all software was open source, available to all, but I understand why Elementary OS would want payment.  What I disagree with is the approach they take.  If for a minute all distro’s went pay only and I was buying one, it wouldn’t be Elementary OS.  I’ve my favourites and that isn’t one of them.

And it’s not like we’re making money to buy yachts;

And after the “cheating” comment, we seem to have a justification, is this saying “Hey, give us some cash, we are not living lavish lifestyles here” – fine, develop software elsewhere then.  Better yet, write your own OS from scratch, make it great and then you can have the yachts and you can “rightfully” retain the source code for yourselves.

It’s about asking a fair price to offset the costs of development. It’s about securing the future of elementary OS to ensure we can keep making software that millions of people love and use every day.

Millions of people? Where does this figure come from?  Total downloads? How do they know?  – I don’t want to get into a debate about how many desktop linux users there are on the planet, but looking at Distro Watch as an indicator (non scientific) it ranks Elementary as 9 (and down 900 views)  If the “millions of people love and use” had been referring to Mint I may have agreed.  I would go as far as to say if Mint was a forced purchase and Elementary OS was completely gratis, I’d go for Mint every time.

Another comment, seeming to me to be made in haste:

While we could rightfully disallow free downloads, someone else could take our open source code, compile it, and give it away for free. So there’s no point in completely disallowing it.

Let me change that a little.  Firstly let me ask Elementary to re-read the license.  Then they can add the word “rightfully” to the part that says “give it away for free” also.    And to be fair, I don’t think people would go to the bother of compiling the code and releasing OS free, with so many distro choices, it would be just another re-invention of the wheel and I can’t think of any feature Elementary OS has that is unique to the distro and hankered after by users that couldn’t be adequately accommodated in another distro.    Maybe someone can help there?  I can’t believe its Desktop is the unique feature/selling point in a world where we are migrating rapidly towards the web-based for all but the most traditional of packages. (Talking mainstream users now)

Most of the open source world is similar; Inkscape and GIMP

Distro’s are 10 a penny I’d suggest and in my view Elementary OS is not the definitive desktop Linux distro.   With Inkscape and GIMP all the developers efforts are focused to one project, that one project appears on many distro’s and other platforms.  The idea of contributing to the GIMP devs, I’d suggest is very different to that of a distro, where I’d guess if you used 1 different distro every day for a year you’d still have some left over at the New Year party.  Is that a bad thing in my view?  Not at all.  But putting this sort of approach on your users is a little out of order in my view because they have so much already to choose from.

If we want to see the world of open source software grow, we should encourage users to pay for its development; ……..or developers will have to resort to backdoor deals and advertising.

Reality check here.  The world of open source is growing and its not growing by distro’s or software putting on a guilt trip to their users.   There are many who will find ways to make money from it and best of luck to them, but lets not assume that anyone who comes along and “makes a few changes” is welcome to financial reward.  If you want something from your work, get a job working in a proprietary software house, release proprietary software.  Don’t start working on open source projects and then complain when you’re not getting the lifestyle of Bill Gates.  And back-door deals? what is that supposed to mean? advertising? shovelware? or are you playing on the paranoia of some that certain distro’s can and will be infected by government code set to spy?  Are the Elementary OS team suggesting that if you don’t pay we have a future of shady government deals with code set to intrude on your private life?  Just what are they saying from vague warning they give?

All quotes are from the Elementary OS blog: http://blog.elementaryos.org/post/110645528530/payments


  1. They have either lost that “open source” feeling, or the project has grown beyond their financial means to keep it going. This is why I avoid small “hobby” distros.

    • I think the thing which bothers me the most is that the project was started in the the open source world. They went into it with their eyes open, for any team to turn around now and say “yeah you’ve had it free for so long, now we need cash to keep going” is wrong and puts me in mind of what Bill Gates said a few years ago

      “…they will get kind of addicted and we’ll work out how to get a return in the future”
      (or words to that effect).

      Can I just thank you very much for taking the time to respond on my comments section, too many people merely comment on Twitter or the G+ link. Whilst that is great too, I always think it nice if comments and views from people can be seen alongside the text that has been written.

      Thank you.

  2. I think the only thing wrong is asking for the money at the time of dowloading. It feels like paying upfront for the right to test the software.

    • yes I think there’s something in that too. I suppose the argument against it would be that once people got it for free they wouldn’t go back and pay. Maybe in the future we will see a shareware type idea where after a set amount of time using the distro, the payment screen appears. That may be a better way to do it. You can still have users enter $0 if they wish.

      I think what disturbed me most about the Elementary OS approach was when they used things like “cheat the system” or “rightfully”. They knew what they were doing when they first started their project, the terms of the license, to suggest now that people are “cheating the system” is wrong, because if people are not wanting to pay (for whatever reason) they are not cheating anything. That’s why I say, if the OS team feel so strongly, then they should dump the Kernel and write their own from scratch, then they can lock the code away and put any terms on the use of their software they wish.

      Its akin to me saying….”hey I’ve been writing for 8 years on FOSS. Its about time you donate, you can enter $0 if you want and cheat the system but its not like I’ve a collection of sports cars”

      I donate my time because I enjoy doing it and I have an honest held belief in the benefit of FOSS. I may not have written any code for the Kernel but I’ve still spent time (8 years and who knows how many words) I personally would find the idea of asking for money offensive. Nobody owes me anything. If people want to ask for donations or make money from their work thats their business, but it sort of muddies the definition of free and open source software, because when I started this (and still believe now) the whole point of free and open source software is to provide honest, open and great software for everyone, if you come into this looking to make money, look elsewhere. If you don’t want to give your time to it, look elsewhere. If you think users,readers of your work owe you, look elsewhere. I have a “real” occupation which pays the bills, this is more a cause that I (and so many others) willingly give their time to – and what a great cause it is, we all benefit.

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